For most of us, Performing Arts was a subject that we either loved or hated at school. Speaking from personal experience, nothing scared me more than having to perform in-front of my peers. I still remember how I felt when I was told that I had to do a three minute group performance in Year 7 and that everyone in the group had to have a part in it! Twenty years later, I can still feel that gut-wrenching knot in my stomach knowing my classmates had their eyes on me while I attempted to ‘act’. (I’m pretty sure the tears were real!)
That same feeling resurfaced about ten years later when I was required to perform a play at University to complete one of my final units of tertiary education. (I may have sung and danced to the ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ theme song as a toddler, but that was the beginning and end of my Performing Arts career.) The memories are painful.
Luckily for us non-actors, there are those special few who thrive on performing for others. How lucky then that Wakakirri: Australia’s largest Performing Arts program and competition exists to offer Performing Arts to primary and secondary school students around the country.
Wakakirri is an indigenous word that broadly translates to ‘story-dance’. Students work with their teachers and peers for months to choreograph a story-dance to music. The students then go and perform for their school community and a panel of celebrity judges (including for talent such as Jason Coleman, Andrew McFarlane, Casey Burgess, Alex Papps and may more). The winning schools move through the competition until one school is eventually crowned as the National Champion. It’s an exciting and exhilarating competition that focuses on teamwork, respect and developing interpersonal skills rather than competitive attributes and behaviours.
A few weeks ago, I was invited to attend the State Finals at the Palais Theatre in Melbourne. It was a spectacular show that entertained an audience of hundreds. Students from schools around Victoria came to perform in the competition and they all brought their hearts and souls to the stage. There were brilliant story-dances from all the schools with highlights from Jells Park Primary School (who performed a wonderful tribute to Nelson Mandela), Pearcedale Primary School (performing The Tale of Two Pandas which focused on smugglers trying to poach the helpless creatures) and Hallam Primary School (who performed a story-dance titled Never Give Up! which added a splash of imagination and creativity to the evening). There were many outstanding schools and they put on a terrific show and should be proud of their effort.
So, how important is it for schools and teachers to support a Performing Arts program? I sat down with industry expert Alice Wilkinson (Professional Hair, Wig and Make-up Artist/Tertiary Educator) to ask her how her schooling played a part in developing her passion for the Performing Arts industry.
“The entertainment industry was all I could think of when growing up. It was so exciting to know that it was possible to be involved in school productions, as this is where my passion lied. The caring and dedicated teachers were a huge part of my happiness at school.”
Miss Wilkinson has now worked in the Australian entertainment industry for over a decade. Her love for Performing Arts which was ignited at secondary college (where she acted and performed in prominent roles for hundreds of her peers in a number of plays eventually led her to pursue her passion as a career.)
“Performing Arts is something that I will always remember about my schooling years.”
Since finishing school, Miss Wilkinson has gone on to work with some of Australia’s most loved performers including Australian soprano and actress (with a career mainly in musical theatre) Marina Prior, four-time Gold Logie Award-winning Australian actress Lisa McCune, Australian actor, director, writer, and comedian Shane Jacobson and many more.
Miss Wilkinson now teachers her craft to enthusiastic students at a tertiary level. (She even finds time to work for the Australian Opera, too.) She hopes she can inspire her students and channel the same passion her teachers did for her.
“Having such a keen interest at a young age in theatre performance, teacher support played a massive part! Their encouragement allowed me to grow and develop and this showed me that they believed in me and my abilities.”
For the students who love Performing Arts, the Wakakirri competition gives them the opportunity to shine. Like Miss Wilkinson they may find themselves pursuing their passion later in life. It is therefore imperative that schools and teachers offer programs to support and develop their students’ passions – not simply focus on developing NAPLAN outcomes! But that’s a debate for another day.
Written by Rob Kelly for DebateReport.com
Emmy Skylar started working for Debate Report in 2017. Emmy grew up in a small town in northern Manitoba. But moved to Ontario for university. Before joining Debate Report, Emmy briefly worked as a freelance journalist for CBC News. She covers politics and the economy.