Vocal artist and actress Rachael Beck
BY EMMA DAVIES
THE Lionhearted Theatre and Arts Program addresses confronting issues for Australian students.
A theatre and arts workshop for schools developed by Sydney Dance Studio 101 director Maya Sheridan-Martinez and entertainer, vocal artist and actress Rachael Beck is helping young students tackle issues that they face in their daily lives.
Covering relevant areas of the curriculum, the six to eight week program, called Lionhearted, was recently completed at Pymble Ladies College in Sydney.
“The workshop unwraps and uncovers the themes and the issues that are going on with the students, using the vehicle of live theatre and the arts as a way to uncover, through writing and their voices, their stories,” Ms Beck said.
“Using art and theatre is a great medium as it reflects and mirrors real life. It was a perfect medium and platform to uncover dialogue and problems facing children today,” she said.
For students, the workshops helps develop confidence and collaborative skills with peers.
“Our outcome for this program is to help develop resilient children, make them aware of their emotions and what each other’s thinking to open up the communication around the impacts of facing these problems and how they can head in to proper connection and face problems in later life,” Ms Beck said.
Ms Beck and Ms Sheridan-Martinex hope that the effects of the program will extend beyond school and into other aspects of the students lives.
“We saw that gap in education, this area of personal development and communication between parents and teachers and children. We thought we could really develop a program and curriculum around that; and developing theatre and script writing workshops as the process helps students develop their voice and their story,” Ms Beck said.
The feedback from Teachers and parents of students at Pymble Ladies College has been overwhelmingly positive.
“They’re blown away. It’s right on the money,” Ms Sheridan-Martinez said.
“An article in the Sydney Daily Telegraph recently pinpointed that there are eight suicides a week by teenagers. Something needs to be done to address this and to really open up and talk about these confronting issues; which are sometimes hard to talk about,” she said.
The program culminates in a concert run by the students who develop performance numbers focusing on themes such as bullying, self-image, and social media. The students have the opportunity to perform and talk about the themes and issues facing their generation.
“It’s a community project and it unpacks and brings to light the issues that are happening. It’s hard hitting and confronting. That’s what we want,” Ms Sheridan-Martinez said.
No issues are off limits, with the program delving deep into mental health topics and issues that teenagers and young students face in their daily lives.
“We want to talk about suicide because it’s raw and it’s real. We want to talk about self-harm. We want to talk about anorexia. We’ve got to,” Ms Beck said.
“The only way to help these things heal and not to be dark little secrets, which most people have, is getting them out into the light. Get the mould off them, talk about it with someone else who’s been through it and connect and realise you’re not alone,” she said.
Discussing themes of resilience at the Lionhearted workshop
There are plans to expand the program, which is currently privately funded by schools, through an application for State Government funding.
“We’re hoping that will come through because we heard that there’s dollars to be spent on mental health. We are our minds, that’s the only thing that matters in life, how we are talking to ourselves,” said Ms Beck.
New South Wales recently announced an injection of $20 million in the 2017/2018 State Budget to address the increasing demand for mental health services, bringing the total recurrent investment in mental health reform to $95 million each year.
The budget also includes $100 million over four years for the Regional Cultural Fund to support cultural and artistic activities in regional and rural communities.
Having recently delivered a regional workshop, Ms Sheridan-Martinez believes that the program would be particularly relevant in regional areas which typically have higher statistics relating to youth mental health issues.
“The workshops we did really cemented what we’re doing and why we need to do it. These programs tend to be concentrated in urban places but the quicker we can secure state funding and be able to travel out to those areas, the quicker we can reach those students,” she said.