11 May, 2018
10 : 00
As part of our ongoing Expert in Residence programme, this month we welcome Roxanne Browne, a British actor specialising in physical theatre, to Yew Chung International School of Beijing. In our interview with Roxanne, she discusses the benefits of teaching drama in schools – in particular with our very youngest ECE children.
Please introduce yourself, your love of drama, and what brings you to China.
I’m Roxanne Browne. I’m an actor from the UK specialising in physical theatre. I discovered my love for drama at school, around Years 10-11, and decided that I wanted to take it on to University level.
First, I did my BA in Drama at Manchester University. Then I went on to do a two-year drama course in Paris, at L’École Jacques Lecoq. The school is famous for its physical theatre – specifically the French arts of clowning and mime. There I developed a profound interest in physical theatre that I have carried with me ever since.
I graduated three years ago and established a theatre company with a group of classmates from Lecoq. We devise our own pieces, based on stories and causes close to our hearts, communicated through physical theatre.
I first came to China two years ago when I was asked to clown at an arts festival for an international school in Shanghai. The same year, I was cast in a show in Nanjing that used physical theatre to convey a love story to a bilingual audience. While I was in China, I gained some experience teaching drama in schools, and started to develop an interest in how drama could reinforce language skills in children. I’ve had several rewarding experiences teaching in China since, and often return to China to work with school children.
What have you been doing with our students at YCIS Beijing? In particular, please talk about your classes with the ECE.
I’ve been working with all year groups teaching a range of drama techniques. For example, with Years 4-5 I have been teaching clowning – encouraging the children to embrace embarrassment onstage, allow themselves to become vulnerable for comic effect and explore the subtleties of humour. With the older years we have been working on a devised drama piece on the theme of “Change in the Future”. As part of this, we’ve been exploring dramatic devices such as how music can alter a mood and aid story-telling.
Working with the very young children in ECE has been really exciting. Of course, you have to adapt the ways in which you teach drama for little children – but there are a range of dramatic exercises that are age-appropriate and introduce important skills.
In my first class with ECE, I asked each of the children to introduce themselves by saying their name loudly and clearly. I would then take a child’s name and speak it in a range of ways that the class copied – for example veeeeerrrry sloooowwly, or very quietly. This is about teaching annunciation and an awareness of voice.
A lot of drama in ECE is based around games – the children get very invested when there is an element of competition! One of their favourite ones is called “Zookeeper”. There is a winner but the game is really about embodying animals – the way they move, the noises they make, the ways they behave and interact. We’ve also done other games where they fly around the room in planes or in cars, and when I shout “freeze!” they have to stand extremely still and hold their poses. These are forms of simple physical theatre.
What do you enjoy most about working with the ECE children?
I most enjoy their innate playfulness. They are brimming with a sense of fun, excitement and silliness – which is really at the heart of clowning. They are less inhibited than older children and aren’t afraid to try new things out.
I am also struck by the power of their imaginations. When they play, when they listen to stories, and in our classes too, they have a vivid, uninhibited sense of imagination. They delight in being asked to close their eyes and imagine the sights, sounds and smells of a jungle or a beach. You can take the whole class on a journey and explore exotic worlds together using the power of their imagination alone.
What are the benefits of studying drama from such a young age?
There are many benefits to studying drama throughout school, and those benefits can be enjoyed from a very young age. Firstly, drama lessons are a great way to encourage students to contribute ideas in an environment where nothing is “wrong”. In drama, there is no such thing as a bad idea. We try out everyone’s suggestions and some work better than others. Finding confidence to voice ideas can then be transferred into other lessons.
We do lots of practical exercises in projecting our voices and speaking clearly. Of course, the ability to speak clearly and confidently is a skill that can be carried throughout life.
In the ECE classes, children are able to explore movement in their bodies which is great for motor skill development.
It’s a fantastic lesson in inclusivity. Children of mixed English language ability take part in the ECE drama classes together and find a new form of communication through movement and play that unites the whole class.
There are also real benefits to language acquisition for little children. Bringing words to life through movement and sound is a great way to memorise new vocabulary.
Have there been any particularly memorable moments from your time here?
When I was with the ECE, we sat in a circle and I conjured up an imaginary kitten in my hands. I told them all that I was holding a very tiny soft kitten and that I would pass it around the circle – but they had to be very gentle. At first, lots of the children seemed confused (perhaps even disappointed!) that there wasn’t really a kitten in my hands. But soon they were all caught up in the imagination – and passed the kitten around with incredible care, stroking it, talking in hushed voices and visualising its little movements. It was a very special moment.
Roxanne returns to the UK this weekend where she will be continuing her work with her theatre company Bric à Brac. We have been delighted to have her at YCIS Beijing since April and wish her every success for her upcoming projects!