GEORGE TOWN, Aug 26 — What happens when the performance arts is used as a “classroom” to empower and educate students?
Some 30 students from four high-needs schools in Kulim, Kedah found out just what that was like when they took part in a project leading up to a performance at this year’s George Town Festival.
The group, 16 performers and 14 in the production team, went through six months of leadership training, community project challenges and drama camps in preparation for the performance titled Find Your Light.
It was no walk in the park for the students, most of whom could not speak English fluently before this, and over the six-month period some dropped out and new students were recruited to replace them.
“Some of these students come from very poor families so some had financial constraints and had to drop out to work to support their family,” said the production’s education director Soonufat Supramaniam, the teacher who spearheaded the whole project.
Soonufat said some of the students’ parents were not receptive to the idea that participating in a performance would be good for their child.
“Of course, there were also parents who were extremely supportive and we do have some students who stuck with us for the whole six months,” he said in an interview just before the official launch of the performance at New World Park on Friday.
Find Your Light is an experiment of sorts to prove that performance arts can be an effective part of a public education system — to educate students outside of the classroom.
“We are using performance arts to instil confidence, not only to educate, but as a platform for them to experience using English and feel the vast difference in communications,” said another teacher Kasvini Muniandy who is the production director.
It is also about gaining valuable real-life experiences in dealing with different situations and gaining knowledge from the lines of the musical the students rehearsed for the performance, she added.
“We can discuss the lines they used in the play in situations and how lessons they learnt from there can be applied to their lives,” she said.
The 30 students emerged from the experience brimming with confidence in what they can achieve if they put their hearts and minds to it.
Nurdiana Muhammad Adam, 14, who joined the production right from the beginning is awed and filled with gratitude for being given the chance to be part of the project.
“It has made me improve like never before and I learned to speak English with proper grammar,” she said confidently.
The SMK Lubok Buntar student plays the nine-headed snake called Ska in the performance.
“I am really thankful that I got this chance to perform and show my talent to the public,” she said.
In fact, she was so inspired by this experience she now wants to be an English teacher in future and perhaps a chef.
Find Your Light was originally a musical conceived by Teach For India, Artists Striving to End Poverty and Broadway artists.
The musical is about an epic battle between the Kingdom of Light and the Kingdom of Darkness to finally reveal that one cannot exist without the other.
It showcases universal themes about family, friendship and love.
Soonufat said he had pitched the show to GTF director Joe Sidek this year and was glad that GTF gave his students this opportunity to be a part of the annual festival.
The performance, which is in collaboration with Teach for Malaysia, is supported by Think City, CIMB Islamic, Sastra Education Development and New World Park.
The musical was staged over several nights on August 17, 18, 19, 24, 25 and will have its final performance tonight. Admission is by donations of between RM10 and RM15 that will go towards supporting more rural students in similar educational projects.