Jane Simmons is a senior teacher, marker, coordinator and drama administrator who has been organising overseas tours for drama students for 7 years. Here she shares her experiences and tips for organising successful programs for your passionate students of the performing arts.
How long have you been travelling overseas with Drama students?
We ran our first drama tour in 2013 with Academy Travel and then I was hooked. I suppose initially I thought the task of organising and supervising kids overseas would be a nightmare, but it was delightful and Academy made it so easy. I’m about to run my fifth student tour so clearly, I love it!
I also run teacher tours and have done 5 of those too. There is something inspiring about combining global locations and professional learning opportunities whilst being with a terrific bunch of colleagues that makes it like a vocation vacation!
How does an overseas study tour help a student in their understanding and study of Drama?
Partly it’s the immersive nature of the tour. Students get to step out of the classroom and have this intensely rewarding experience of doing workshops, seeing international theatre and seeing the world simultaneously.
By taking them out of their normal routine, students embrace the opportunity to ‘have a go’ at things they might otherwise struggle to commit to back at school or home. There is something liberating for students to be overseas with others that are also passionate about their subject and they feel safe to explore new ideas in new places. I have seen students have an awakening about their abilities and it has transformed them back at school.
The tour is also a way to consolidate learning back in the classroom. I have also had students end up being top of the class at the end of the year after they’ve done a tour when they weren’t contenders before this.
Plus they get to develop new friendships and this can also be a wonderful thing for many kids who struggle to find their tribe.
What are the most useful and relevant activities/workshop/locations for overseas Drama tours?
My favourite place is London. There are so many incredible places to do workshops over there. Physical theatre with Frantic Assembly and Theatre de Complicite, verbatim workshops with Out of Joint, immersive theatre with Punchdrunk, mask with Trestle, general theatre tours and workshops with the National Theatre, musical theatre opportunities on the West End, Shakespeare through The Globe, accessibility workshops with Graeae. Honestly, too many to mention. And then the theatre! Plus you’ve got Warner Brothers Studios with the Harry Potter sets and locations only around the corner. Stratfor-upon-Avon is close by and the rest of the UK and Europe is just a stone throw’s away.
Finding activities and workshops that marry curriculum but also build for the future of devised work, script interpretation, advanced movement and acting should be at the heart of any drama tour. Think about what skills you’d like the students to have and then find a location that unlocks that. Take them to Paris and work in Lecoq’s school or Berlin to learn at the Berliner Ensemble. Imagine that – students getting that ahead of the game in great parts of the world.
What are your top tips for teachers organising their Drama study tour, especially first timers?
In terms of planning, try to see things and do things you can’t do at home. Give them the full advantage of learning as much as they and you can.
Allow plenty of time to debrief so you can get them to connect what they are doing with what skills and ideas they should be exploring. In particular, if you see a show that allows for depth of analysis, make sure you deconstruct it with kids so you can guide their learning. You don’t have to have all the answers but they do need to spend time thinking and unpacking what they’ve seen and done. Encourage log book time.
Any tips for managing students whilst on tour?
Set clear boundaries when it comes to meeting times and always build in a buffer.
Smaller clusters are the key. Think of it like sub-groups. It helps if each of those groups can have a chat group set up with their teacher so you can pass on information in written as well as verbal forms, because you know at the end of the day, kids will forget stuff.
Get rooming right and have your rooming list ready. Break groups into smaller clusters and put a teacher in charge of each group, especially when using public transport.
For those that are forgetful and leave stuff behind, have a ‘sweeper’ who will do the rounds of places to pick up the stuff left. I’ve collected wallets, cameras, phones etc. It’s going to save you heartache later when you are two days away from where the item was left to discover that it’s gone.
Build team activities – like team names, cheers, etc. Each sub-group could have their own greeting or number off each time getting on and off transport.
Keep them busy. Do lots of walking! Build in some shopping time because they want to spend money with some desperation!
Arrange for kids who struggle to get up in the morning to have several wake up calls!
Apart from the academic learning students can take away from a tour, what other positive effects have you seen on students who travel on a study tour?
As I said, friendships are key. There’s a sense of belonging and reinventing yourself, especially when the ages of the students are mixed on tour. It’s also a great way to get to know and build relationships with students outside a classroom context.
It’s also a wonderful way to explore the world in the safety of adults who aren’t your parents. It can be a lovely way to grow independence.
And it’s fun. The best fun you can have whilst ticking all the learning outcomes at the same time!
Jane Simmons is an experienced teacher, marker, coordinator and drama administrator with an extensive portfolio of leading camps, festivals, performances & ensembles. She has been performing short and long form improvisation for over 20 years in Sydney and internationally and has trained with Improvisation Guru Keith Johnstone and Chicago IO teachers Bill Arnett & Lyndsay Hailey.