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Rutherford High School Students put in an “A” performance

(The “A” stands for Art, just so you know!)

I have to be honest when I say that I was pleasantly surprised and gratified by 2018’s school year and we’re only halfway in. My name is Mr. Len and I teach Drama and English at Rutherford Private School. I started here back in January and I was curious to see how these bright young minds would take to my drama classes.

My background in the Arts is quite extensive yet modest. I graduated from Ryerson with a BFA in Theatre Performance with a minor in classical English. I have over 20 years experience on the stage and have worked with some incredible actors and directors over the years. It is here where I learned and matured the most, not only as an artist, but on a social level as well. Being surrounded by experienced and artistic minds influenced how I view the world at large, how I present myself in public settings, how I teach my students and more importantly how I mentor young people around me.

So, suffice it to say, I was really excited to begin working with the high school students at Rutherford. The class of sixteen students is a cultural melting pot (a perfect reflection of Toronto’s demographic) of Canadians, Russians, Chinese and various other Europeans. How would these diverse teens take to my North American approach of teaching drama? An approach deeply rooted in exposing vulnerability, using props as a means of adapting to the scene, and the theory of giving more than receiving when performing with others in a live forum.

It’s worthy to note that my approach to Dramatic Arts is solely to develop one’s confidence and leadership qualities. These two facets are inherently crucial to success both in the formative teenage years all the way through adulthood. Body language says a lot and simply knowing how to enter and exit a room of your peers will speak volumes in terms of positive leadership and confidence both presently and for the future.

To break the ice we started with many trust related games. The students were to understand that trust, on stage and in life, is vital in order to put forth their best work with confidence as well as learning how to deflect judgements and criticisms. We then moved on to more physical games, like charades, improvisation, story-telling through mime, etc. I was amazed to see how quickly and with little resistance these young minds took to the methods and exercises taught in class. It was as if they were yearning to tell their stories and show their artistic sides. It made me think that this was a brand new experience for most of them, an experience they most desperately desired and needed.

The incredible change that began to emerge was outside the drama class. I quickly noticed confidence levels, self-esteem and self-respect on the rise. There was a new sense of pride and joy in fulfilling tasks and assignments. Students who once detested giving powerpoint presentations were now looking forward to them. For me, it was truly rewarding to watch these bright mature teens grow in confidence right before my eyes.

Now comes the biggest challenge for these young thespians. Scene Studies!!!! (Insert apocalyptic theme music). I took it upon myself, much to the disappointment of the class, to pair everyone up with someone they wouldn’t necessarily have chosen on their own accord. I do this often as a way to strengthen class relationships but also as a way to get students out of their comfort zones by working with less familiar classmates. The students were given time to rehearse their scenes or monologues in front of their peers under my direction. Everyday I sought to challenge them more and more through various techniques. Each and every time we met, the scenes became stronger and less “acted.” They quickly realized that acting was in fact “being.”

These 16 young actors were duly rewarded for their hard work by having the chance to perform their scenes in front of faculty, student body and family at our annual Rutherford Private School Gala. We had our biggest turnout to date with over 100 people attending our event. The reception received was incredible! Parents and faculty alike were blown away with the calibre of talent with which these students performed. Many parents had approached me throughout the gala telling me how their son or daughter was never able to perform in front of people, or how they were introverted and had fears of even being in front of a small audience let alone 100+ people.

I can’t begin to say how gratifying this is for someone like me who is passionate about the arts. I am filled with excitement and energy for the upcoming academic year, as Rutherford strives to build opportunities in all facets of education. I give hands down, standing ovation to all who participated in this year’s gala. Here’s to many more!

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