Being dramatic 26 October 2017

As February’s Music & Drama Education Expo fast approaches, head of content Sarah Lambie unveils some of the drama programme

As I write this, we are only a few days from the first Music & Drama Education Expo | Manchester, on 4 October 2017 – but already we are looking ahead to the next two-day event in London, on 22–23 February 2018 – and, hot off the press, I’m able to announce the bulk of the London 2018 drama conference programme!

If you’ve never been to the #MDEE, this will definitely be the year to make your first visit – there is more than a 20% increase in the offering for drama delegates: up from last year’s 23 drama sessions to a hugely exciting 30. This does mean that you now have to be careful in your choices about what to attend, as unlike at previous editions of the Expo there is regularly more than one drama session going on simultaneously, and there are tough decisions to be made …

At this stage, with the majority of the programme only just confirmed, there are a few sessions which I can’t yet detail – and at least three full-length workshops, seminars or keynote debate/presentations for drama to be announced in a few weeks. However, with those mystery sessions in the back of our heads, here is a head of content’s imaginary walk-through two days at Expo 2018. We’ll call our drama teacher ‘Lucille’

Lucille goes to Expo: Day 1

Lucille (32, secondary drama teacher) arrives bright and early at 9am, ready to hear the rousing musical performance on the main stage. Those who came last year will remember the band of the Grenadier Guards, resplendent in their red uniforms, blasting us all awake for a day of arts education joy. This year, young people from Raglan School will be entertaining us all first thing on Day 1. After the opening performance, Lucille heads to the Rhinegold Theatre to hear the welcome speeches from the heads of content and editors of Music Teacher and Teaching Drama magazines. After a mercifully brief introduction, Alex and Sarah hand over to the much more exciting Dominic Peckham – musical director of the National Youth Choir of Great Britain – who leads all the delegates in a half-hour warm up called Ready, Steady Sing.

After the warm up, everyone heads off to their first choice of session for the day. Lucille has made two new friends by this point: Jonas (40, head of drama in a secondary school with some SEND students) and Ananya (27, early years and primary), but they are all heading in different directions. Lucille is off to The Space for a session called Flipped Learning: C@ptiv8 their creativity. Her head of department was keen that she should come back from her CPD at Expo with some practical up-to-the-minute approaches to T&L, and this session with Rhea Walker for KS3, 4 and 5 will deliver just that. Meanwhile Jonas is queuing up back outside the Rhinegold Theatre to join a session from superstar educationalist and composer Paul Harris which asks Are your students actually learning? and considers alternative strategies for teaching; and Ananya is heading to the first Sharing Lab session of the day, to share and learn from others’ expertise about early years and primary drama.

After her first session, Ananya has some time to explore the exhibition floor and have a coffee. Jonas and Lucille buy their coffees by the Performance Stage so that they can hear an interview with a representative of the Arts Award about accrediting students’ work – but have to slip away early to get to The Space for a session with Annie Sutton on Devising using practitioners – both have taught Stanislavski and Brecht for years, but this session is to focus on Artaud, which is a really useful new angle to explore.

Jonas dashes from Annie Sutton’s session to the Sharing Lab, where other drama delegates are discussing working with SEND students and he is able to offer insights from his many years of experience. Meanwhile Ananya goes to The Space for an early years and primary session called What do you do when you meet Kibungo? Musical dilemmas for early years drama – it’s a good opportunity to explore the crossover between the two subjects in a practical way, led by practitioner Emma Fitch. For Lucille, though, it’s now her turn in the Sharing Lab, where a discussion is going about helping students to apply for post-18 courses. She has three in her A level class this year who want to apply to drama school, and other delegates she meets are old hands at negotiating the audition process.

As head of department, it’s Jonas’ job to oversee the school play, and recently he’s worked with the music department to put on musicals – but he’s always felt out of his depth in the technology aspect of the process, so for his penultimate session of the day, he goes to the Tech Theatre for PA SOS: Getting started with live sound – where he also meets a couple of really nice music teachers.

In The Space, Lucille is working on her ‘neutral’, in Being present and ready to play: Functional posture and the Feldenkrais method – secretly, this is a session she’s doing for herself, but there are still a host of strategies she can take back to her students of all age groups, and her newfound equilibrium stands her in good stead when she has to dash from that session back to the Sharing Lab to steal a few ideas from fellow teachers in a big Schemes of Work swap for KS3–5.

Since Ananya also teaches music to her early years and primary students, she’s now been able to attend some of the end-of-day sessions from the music stream of the programme, but Jonas and Lucille meet once more before the end of the day – this time in the Seminar Theatre, where AQA drama specialist and teacher Matthew Nichols is opening an expertise goldmine entitled The Ten Commandon’ts: what not to do in drama exams. At 4:30, armed with this knowledge, and ready for a pint, they decide to go for a celebratory Day 1 dinner before retiring to their accommodation (Jonas has got a hotel room for the night, Lucille is staying with a friend). For Ananya, sadly, who’s London-based, it’s back to school tomorrow.

Lucille goes to Expo: Day 2

Day 2 begins in the Rhinegold Theatre with a West End choir supercharge from the ladies at Starling Arts. It’s a much-needed injection of energy for Jonas and Lucille, who’ve not yet had their first coffee of the day. Fortunately they’re able to have a drink and a wander round the exhibition post-warm up before heading to the Shakespeare Schools Foundation’s session in The Space: “Be not afraid of greatness”: Approaching Shakespeare’s language.

After that, they go their separate ways: Lucille to see Mahogany Opera’s performance on the Performance Stage, before exploring a uniquely American style of documentary theatre-making in The Space, in Creating “Living Newspapers”; Jonas is in the Sharing Lab again – this time a big session on department leadership. He’s able to offer advice himself to younger delegates hoping to move up a rung in their own careers, while also picking up tips from fellow heads of department about working with a limited budget and how to foster the best, most up-to-the-minute T&L.

They meet again in The Workshop for a session on Changing Levels: Making KS3 Assessment work. This session is put together by the amazing Keith Burt, an online Drama Teaching celebrity, and outlines his approach to KS3 assessment. Lucille has to slip away early though, in order to participate in the whole of the Sharing Lab called To BTEC or not to BTEC: it’s another of the things she promised her head of department she’d gather some thoughts on – and there are teachers there who are longstanding BTEC advocates, as well as new converts, and sceptics.

Georghia Ellinas from Shakespeare’s Globe Education is being interviewed on the Performance Stage just before the start of a session in The Space called Let’s Write a Play, where Jonas and Lucille are once again reunited – but at the end of the day they’re in different sessions again. While Lucille, thinking of her KS4 and 5 groups, attends a practical session called Mobile phones and the democratisation of evidence capture, Jonas is having a particularly jolly end to his Expo – working on acting through song in the Rhinegold Theatre, with one eye on next year’s school musical, at Disney’s Aladdin: Spotlight on singing.

By the time they head home, Ananya, Jonas and Lucille have all made new friends, picked up countless new ideas, and passed on some of their own unique experience to others in their profession – and Jonas won’t get ‘Prince Ali’ out of his head for at least a week. Roll on Manchester 2018 …

Music & Drama Education Expo | London takes place on 22 & 23 February 2018. Book your free tickets

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