Head of Drama
“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” “Never be afraid to play and never be afraid to fail.”
These quotes can be found on the walls of our Drama classrooms. They are reaffirmed by teachers who shout out “Take a risk!” and “Try something new!” during warm up games and performance activities.
Our goal is to remind students that our classrooms are places where they are safe to experiment with their learning and try new things. Of course, taking a risk and stepping out of one’s comfort zone in any situation is easier said than done. So many of us (not just students) feel the need to succeed immediately and anticipate that future failure will be upsetting. Our instinct is to safeguard ourselves from feelings of embarrassment, disappointment and frustration. This mindset can be debilitating for a learner and limits their growth.
In creative pursuits, the desire to succeed the first time seems to be even more pronounced. As Drama teachers, we see this often. Students will often label themselves as untalented if they aren’t funny, engaging or ‘original’ the first time they attempt a performance activity. Keith Johnstone, a British and Canadian pioneer of improvisational theatre, actually cautions against trying to be original. He states that “striving to be original takes you far away from your authentic self and makes your work mediocre”.
Comedian and feminist writer Deborah Frances-White adds that the biggest enemies of success in creative endeavours are fear and ego. She tells young performers to let go of the fear of failure and to remove themselves from the work, emphasising that the focus should be on the process instead of the outcome. She makes a comparison to scientists. When a scientific experiment fails, a scientist is unlikely to throw their hands in the air and say “I’m an untalented scientist. I’m terrible. I’m a failure”. Instead they will understand that to find the best process you have to keep going and try again, all the time ruling out what doesn’t work. Imagine if we treated all learning like this? Not just in the classroom but in all aspects of life; treating every experience as a ‘data collecting activity’ where we learn more about ourselves and how to improve the processes we take to achieve our goals.
One of our aims as a department this year is to keep investigating ways to encourage our students to embrace failure as a learning opportunity and to measure a student’s ability to take risks. We have had some rich discussions about processes we can use in the classroom to recognise and reward these attributes in our students.
If you would like to listen to more thoughts about failure, I recommend a podcast called ‘How to Fail with Elizabeth Day’. In this podcast, award-winning journalist Elizabeth Day interviews philosophers, writers, actors, directors and more about what they have learned from things going wrong. Great listening.
I’d like to take this opportunity to welcome back to the team Mrs. Chris Woods and Mrs. Casey Scoines who took periods of leave in 2020.
We also look forward to seeing you at some performances this year, particularly our School Musical, as we start to open our spaces again to parents and members of our school community.
Ms Anna-lea Russo
Head of Drama
 Keith Johnstone (2012). “Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre”, p.88, Routledge
 Elizabeth Day (2019). “How to fail with Elizabeth Day”. https://open.spotify.com/episode/3i5swPhTgTcDpawje4PN05