Episode 190: I thought I wanted to be a drama teacher
Ashley and Anastasia both graduated with Drama in Education degrees. They both wanted to teach. And then… they didn’t. Listen to their journey and learn how they found a way incorporate drama and education into their lives outside the classroom.
Welcome to the Drama Teacher Podcast brought to you by Theatrefolk – the Drama Teacher Resource Company.
I’m Lindsay Price.
Hello! I hope you’re well. Thanks for listening!
This is Episode 190 and you can find any links to this episode in the show notes which are at Theatrefolk.com/episode190 – otherwise known as 190.
Oh, my goodness! What was that, eh? 190.
Anyway, I know some of you out there knew you wanted to be a teacher from an early age. And then, you became a teacher and you loved being a teacher, right? And I know some of you didn’t know you wanted to be a teacher but you found a passion for teaching and you can’t think of doing anything else. But I know there were some of you who thought teaching was your dream job until it wasn’t, right?
That’s what happened to our guests today – that’s right, I said “guests” – plural, because we’ve got a two-for-one special. Our guests have had an interesting journey with drama and education and it’s a good one to share.
What do you do when the classroom just isn’t for you but you still know you’re an educator and you still want to find a way to combine drama and education? What a great question! Let’s find out, shall we?
LINDSAY: Hello everybody!
We have speciality – specialty? We have specialness – that’s not a word either – on the podcast today because we have two guests. We have two guests for the price of one.
Let me just say hello to who we have. We have Ashley.
ASHLEY: Hey there!
LINDSAY: And we have Anastasia.
LINDSAY: And so, this one’s really fascinating because this one could have been done in person because we’re in the same area which is why this podcast came about.
One of you is in Fort Erie.
ANASTASIA: Yes, that’s Anastasia.
LINDSAY: Ah, I had a 50 percent chance!
LINDSAY: She’s in Fort Erie which is the town – well, not the town, the biggish town – that is close to where I am in Crystal Beach. Can you see Buffalo from your window?
ANASTASIA: I actually can from our bedroom window.
LINDSAY: There we go.
And Ashley is in Saint Catharines which is a biggish city just a little way down the ways.
So, thank you very much for coming on the podcast today!
ASHLEY: Absolutely. We’re very excited.
ANASTASIA: Yeah, our pleasure.
LINDSAY: What is really interesting to me – and I think that is going to be interesting to our listeners – is that both of you seem to have had a starting point with your careers in educational theatre which is not where you are now. You sort of have had an interesting journey.
ASHLEY: Yeah, right! It is that way, yeah!
LINDSAY: Both of you have degrees in drama and education.
ANASTASIA: We both do, yes.
LINDSAY: Cool. So, what I’d like to start off with is what made you want to take that path? Why did drama and education speak to both of you?
ANASTASIA: Absolutely. Okay, I will start. I’m Anastasia and, since I was at a young age, I was always introduced to different elements of theatre by my family. My family’s big theatre advocates. I fell in love with musicals early on and I performed in a lot of community theatre productions, local productions, as well as the school. So, I got involved very heavily at an early age.
And then, I went through to university – focusing in the teaching world, actually, and not in drama and education specifically, but in child and new studies – and I did two years at Brock University. And then, I was in the middle of university and I thought, “What am I doing? I need to be in theatre! This is not right for me!” and I actually switched midway through university and still pursued teaching but followed in the path of drama and education.
I completed my five-year program at Brock and then went on to work at the Catholic School Board in our town and had a lot of experience working with kids at the School Board. I mean, that kind of brings me to where we began.
Before I go any further, I’ll pass it over to Ashley.
LINDSAY: Yeah, actually, I have a couple of questions for you.
LINDSAY: Ashley, we will not forget about you.
ASHLEY: Yeah, no worries! I’m here!
LINDSAY: That’s the very traditional path, right? “I’m going to go to school and I’m going to work in something that I love. Love theatre. I want to do in an educational setting.”
What was it about the traditional setting? Because you taught for about six years. What was it that made you want to go away?
ANASTASIA: It sounds kind of harsh but it is and it isn’t.
LINDSAY: You know what? I think it’s important. I think it’s important because there’s lots of people who take the traditional. I am a product of that, too. You take the traditional path and you think that it’s the only path and you think it’s the path that’s going to work for you and how awful it feels sometimes when it doesn’t work.
LINDSAY: As if you’re wrong.
ANASTASIA: In the school system now, there is only so much time allotted for the arts and I say that as the arts, I was in elementary so I wasn’t in a high school setting and we did only have so much time to do that and that was obviously my passion from day one, right? So, the more I could do that, the better.
I got more involved by running the school musicals and things like that at the schools I was working at, but I still saw a direct reflection on the kids of how important the arts were and I wanted to pursue this further – beyond the 30 minutes we were allowed to try to do dance and drama and art and everything else once a week. I wanted to pursue this further and give children an outlet where they could come weekly and a few hours weekly and pursue this even further.
LINDSAY: I love that! I love that answer because, well, we automatically assume – wrongly, I think – that, if somebody leaves teaching after six years, it’s because they hate teaching.
ANASTASIA: Correct. Right!
LINDSAY: I just think, well done! Nice answer!
Ashley, first of all, I have to say – only because I am a Disney freak – that the fact that you have performed on the Disney Wonder and the Disney Dream, you get points.
LINDSAY: You started exactly in the same way. You have a drama and ed. Talk about why that and then why not that.
ASHLEY: Sure. Kind of like Anastasia, I kind of grew up in the theatre as well. I kind of grew up onstage. Anastasia and I actually met in community theatre when we were like, I think, 11 years old. We kind of grew up in the theatre and it kind of really changed me.
Definitely, after spending so much time doing something that obviously was a positive thing for me, I felt that I have to do this and teach. Well, actually. I really always wanted to teach as well. It was kind of like a combination of my two loves when I went and found this drama and education program and thought it was absolutely perfect for me.
From there, obviously, I went on to take the programming and I loved it. I really loved it; I loved the aspects of using drama in different ways, in different subjects. And so, I went on obviously to get my master’s in teaching but I actually went to Australia to get my master’s from there because I actually didn’t spend any time teaching in the school boards. From there, I got my master’s and I kind of just changed my mind about things a little bit.
I kind of traveled and saw the world and saw different ways, different cultures, used the arts in drama, and I thought that, you know, just like Ana, you don’t really get enough time in schooling to really explore a lot of those things.
Well, actually, I came back and then I went to the Disney Dream and the Disney Wonder. I kind of got to explore my performance side a little bit more which was kind of where I thought I wanted to go. And then, life flip flops and changes. I came back here to the Niagara region.
Ana and I are obviously still in touch. We actually used to talk about opening our own theatre company when we were maybe in our teens. We just decided to make it a reality. We were both kind of at that point in our life where we didn’t really know where we wanted to go and kind of just started and made it happen.
LINDSAY: Yeah, why not?
Now, your company is called Down the Rabbit Hole.
ASHLEY: Yeah, Down the Rabbit Hole.
LINDSAY: Correct me if I’m wrong but it’s sort of a teaching company?
LINDSAY: Instead of the performance focus, there’s kind of a class setting focus.
ASHLEY: Yeah, exactly.
ANASTASIA: How we’ve kind of arranged the classes is we wanted to give not just the extremely talented children in our community a chance to come and audition – like other communities do which there’s nothing wrong with that but we wanted to make it an opportunity for any child to come, be a part of our class – and do a performance aspect with our class.
How we structure classes are we run for ten weeks and then we do performances at the end of our ten weeks but our classes are all different in the sense that they’re divided by age and we also have something called a soloist class where children can come and audition for the strong ones that really want to pursue this.
ASHLEY: Right. It’s a little bit more traditional.
ANASTASIA: A little bit more traditional.
We introduce different elements of theatre through those classes every single session. I mean, we’ve touched on Commedia dell’arte, we’ve touched on clown, we’ve touched on black lights. We’re trying to incorporate all the different elements of theatre that we’ve learned in school and give the kids a good sense of what theatre is about and maybe find their own little niche in it because everyone is different.
LINDSAY: Yeah, for sure!
It’s almost like the best of both worlds because you get to involve yourself in the teaching aspect but then you’re teaching kids who actually choose to – hopefully choose to – be in your programs.
ASHLEY: Yeah, and that actually is what’s really cool about it as well.
You know, the thing too about our region was there just wasn’t anything that was being offered like it. Actually, going further into the entire Niagara region, we’re actually finding that it’s pretty unique in the sense that it is inclusive and you don’t have to audition. There is other companies that do this – of course – but just where we are, it’s really special.
LINDSAY: Well, it hits home what you want for those who attend and it sounds like it’s process-driven rather than performance-driven.
ASHLEY: Yes, entirely, yeah.
ANASTASIA: And every child takes away something different – whether it be the fact that they do get to perform and they love the arts and they love theatre or in the sense that their mum put them in here because they have been suggested to come to our program to develop their speech or their confidence. All the kids get something very different out of our program – whether or not they’re there because they love theatre or not – and I think that’s what makes it so amazing.
LINDSAY: I think it’s very interesting. You started in traditional drama and education roles, went in some different directions – travel and some performance. But, even in forming this company and deciding what it was going to be, still, the teaching bug did not leave you – whether you’re doing it in a traditional format or not.
What is it about teaching that speaks to you?
ASHLEY: I feel like it’s just the sense of sharing. I think that, growing up, just because of the such extreme impact it had on my life, I just wanted to always be able to share that – I don’t know – with future generations. As cheesy as it sounds, it just really helped me grow as a person and I feel like it’s just really important to have drama and to use drama to teach not only drama and theatre and things like that but other subjects. I know that Anastasia has kids growing up and she uses drama all the time to teach everyday things. Teaching is just kind of instilled in us.
ANASTASIA: Yeah, it’s not something that ever leaves you. Same with drama, right?
At a young age, I loved performing and I wanted it to be all about me. That’s not going to leave me. It’s just going to kind of go through me in a different way now. So, now, yes, teaching hasn’t left me and our classes are structured very much so because our classes are big so we need to have a strict schedule like teachers do, but it’s the subject that’s a bit different and how we’re doing that is a bit different, but it’s still with us and it’s still equally as important.
We’ve just both found a really healthy balance between our passions and our loves and teaching as well.
LINDSAY: You know, there’s lots of folks out there who run as far away from the teaching aspect as possible. Drama is really interesting because there’s that notion of it’s all performing or nothing. And then, sometimes – and I’m sure you both have met these folks where – they go into the professional world and they don’t make it so they choose teaching as their default which is never a great idea.
I think that having that impetus to teach drama is something that’s – I don’t know, I just think it’s really unique.
ANASTASIA: Yeah. I definitely tried it. I tried working at the school board and I did love it. I did love it but I didn’t feel like, for me, it wasn’t where I was meant to be. I was meant to do things differently in a different sense. Now, I feel like I am where I’m meant to be and that’s the balance. For some teachers I know, yes, I have a lot of friends who were in the drama department that have pursued to be teachers. I mean, they’re doing really well. They’re incorporating drama as much as they can in their classrooms in different senses, but this is where I’m meant to be – and I think Ashley, too.
ASHLEY: Oh, yeah, and we have a lot of creative freedom ourselves as well – you know, being the owners and not having to adhere to a curriculum or whatever. We are free to teach maybe something that is new and has just come up – and not that teachers are not – but, sometimes, they do have restrictions and things like that. We just feel like just the allowance that having our company has been given to us, it’s pretty awesome.
LINDSAY: How long have you guys been working on this company?
ASHLEY: I know we started about February 2013-ish. About four years.
LINDSAY: In the past four years, what would you say has been the biggest learning curve? Instead of teaching in a traditional format, you’re in this own world where you basically get to design the curriculum, if you want to use those terms. What’s been the biggest learning curve?
ASHLEY: Actually, I’m going to go here because, when I went to school to get my master’s in teaching, I was kind of learning how to be a teacher. When I did come into the normal classroom, I did have a bit of a problem letting go of quite the structured kind of lesson. I feel like Anastasia has a little bit more of a flowy attitude and I was very structured. I wanted to do it just like a classroom and that kind of got me in a little bit of trouble. That was my kind of struggle – getting over that. Of course, now, four years down the road, it’s a little bit easier. But, yeah, I definitely had that kind of teacher mindset in me and I had to let go of that just a tad in the different environment that we were in, of course.
ANASTASIA: I feel, also, when we initially began, we just began with having theatre classes. And so, many years ago, I said, “Okay, well, we need to put together something at the end of these ten weeks because theatre is about being able to perform in front of a live audience and the children get something out of that that they don’t just from class.”
So, our biggest challenge I think from day one to now is, “Okay, we have ten weeks with these kids and, essentially, ten to twenty hours with them. We’ve got to put a whole show together in ten to twenty hours,” and we do.
That says a lot about the kids as well because here are these kids – ages 4 to 16 – that take what we’re giving them, go home, learn it, practice, and come back and can do a performance. I think that’s the biggest learning curve for me every single time – putting together the show in ten weeks.
LINDSAY: The kids change every time.
LINDSAY: So, you can’t actually go, “Okay! This is the structure that’s going to work!”
ANASTASIA: Yeah, and the cool thing is we are getting repeat people. I mean, it is getting easier – finally, after four years! But it’s cool to see the kids coming back as well.
LINDSAY: Again, as you get to plan everything, what do you think are the most important skills that you want your kids to take away? What are the things that you think are the things that you really want to try to teach them?
ANASTASIA: Well, I think the things we try to teach them, we do so in a way that they’re not realizing they’re learning and I think we do that on purpose. We want the kids to have fun and we want them to learn things on their own too because it’s about development in my mind. Confidence is definitely a major thing.
ASHLEY: Yeah, I would definitely say confidence as well. If we’re talking about theatre elements, like Ana says, we are all over the board with that one. But, I think, basically, what we want them to get out of it, maybe better communication skills.
We want them to up their creativity and things like that – problem-solving skills, working together as an ensemble, collaboration – those are the most important things I would say. It’s not really about the final product of how well they danced in the number we taught them or how well they remembered all their lines.
It’s about friendship, too. you can see the bond that really kids have made because we’ve become who we are because we had that friendship which developed in theatre and those are life things that are so important and I think you can really see those happening in class.
LINDSAY: I think that the friendships that happen when you’re working on something together, that’s something that will stay with them.
ANASTASIA: Yeah, 100 percent.
LINDSAY: I love the idea. It’s quite true. It’s not a classroom situation so it actually has to be fun.
ANASTASIA: Yeah, I know!
ANASTASIA: I’m like, “Oh, teacher!
LINDSAY: Well, the balance, and I guess the thing that you could do, are you guys always sort of looking for and identifying those moments then, like, “Oh, nope! Gotta change that for next time!”
ASHLEY: Oh, absolutely, yeah! We are literally always changing our lesson in the middle of the lesson – of course, as teachers do as well – but, sometimes, when we think, “Oh, this structured activity is going to work great because it worked great in the classroom,” it doesn’t necessarily work in the space that we’re currently in or the situation or the environment.
ANASTASIA: Or the mood of how the kids are acting. Like, we try to do a guided imagery with them and they’re all giggling and they’re all really silly and we need to change that right away – which, of course, still happens in teaching as well.
ANASTASIA: Yeah, it’s just a different situation.
ASHLEY: Often, they’ve just spent all day in school so they come there to have fun and we have to realize that as well. Sometimes, they don’t always want to learn about Commedia dell’arte and things like that. So, we kind of have to have that balance.
LINDSAY: Being in this environment and working in this way, what do you think is your best attribute?
ANASTASIA: Oh, this is a good question!
LINDSAY: Your whole life has led to you being in this… the words are not coming! Doing your classes. Everything has led up to doing your classes. What has served you well?
ASHLEY: Maybe I can answer for Anastasia.
ANASTASIA: And I’ll answer for Ashley.
ASHLEY: That would be a good thing!
LINDSAY: Love it!
ASHLEY: I think Anastasia’s best asset is definitely her ability to be adaptive and flexible. Like I was saying before, I am a little bit more structured and organized – well, organized, yeah.
ASHLEY: So, I do believe that Anastasia has brought that and definitely, I mean, the ability to adapt to different situations, different children, different age groups is a huge asset, especially in what we’re doing because things are always changing. We don’t have a lot of time with these kids like you would in a classroom and I have a little bit more trouble with that. I need to be organized, like I said in previous, but definitely her ability to be flexible and creative and all of that, for sure.
ANASTASIA: And then, I’ll answer for Ashley!
On that side, she keeps us in check and she keeps the program running smoothly and efficiently. She’s really great at seeing the kids and realizing their needs and putting that into our programing and kind of assessing the children and seeing what they can do and developing our lessons and our programs based on those kids. I think we, together as a team, work really well because we both are very different but then come together to create a fun, organized, balanced class.
ASHLEY: Ah, so nice!
LINDSAY: Well, actually, you answered my next question which would be about teamwork and about how doing something like this, I think, as you’re trying to get the kids to work together – maybe not as a team but as an ensemble – that’s something when you guys are running a program like this, it must be teamwork all the way.
ASHLEY: Yeah, you know what? It definitely has.
ANASTASIA: To be honest, I know that Ashley is really good with the older kids. It could be because I have young children myself but the four, five, and six-year-olds, you need me to get their attention, you need me to do that, I can do that. And so, Ashley kind of steps back with the little ones. With the older ones, she takes the stand. I mean, that also works well too for us.
ASHLEY: Yeah, it’s definitely different than being on your own and being a teacher in the classroom to having that partnership and having the ability to bounce off of them during your lesson. Sometimes, I just get a loss for words and I forget completely what I’m even talking about. I know I have a partner that I can just look at and she picks up right where I left off. Definitely, in a sense, it’s definitely different than a classroom. In a way, I believe it’s better. I mean, you’ve got double trouble and somebody there always to kind of pick up.
LINDSAY: Yes, that goes on a t-shirt, right? It’s double trouble. Teamwork all the way!
ASHLEY: Oh, gosh!
LINDSAY: So, where do you guys see yourselves in five years? You have it established. You’ve been here four years. You still clearly love doing it. What is the future for you guys?
ANASTASIA: I mean, we’ve gone from 16 kids to 70 and there is a big new theatre actually being built in Fort Erie at the high school and, obviously, our dream is to pursue it further. We would love to branch out and do shows – audition for shows, those kinds of things – but we also want to maintain our kind of theatre school-ish that we’ve established.
We are trying to do some more outreach to different community events like the Taste of Fort Erie. Our children have performed there. They’ve performed at the Hollywood North Party. We’re kind of trying to branch out our kids – giving them different performance aspects as well and opportunities for them.
ASHLEY: Yeah, we hope to grow more, of course, and keep offering different things. I mean, right now, we currently offer a few specialty classes like an improv class and things like that, but we would love to offer more variety – maybe a larger age group, older teenagers. Right now, we currently only really go up to about 14 years old. Then, obviously, if there is still a need, then we hope to expand and grow and keep teaching the kids of our community because there’s a lot of them and they need this.
ANASTASIA: Yeah, they do and there’s a lot of talent – a lot of talent.
LINDSAY: Okay! Last question…
You guys are doing great. It’s all good.
I think that this is something that I think particularly educators and drama educators should keep in the back of their heads because, you know, when you’re performing, it’s more about, as you said, it’s you, me, it’s all about me, I’m onstage, it’s me. With education, there’s them and what you’re doing is really focusing on the kids and what they achieve.
What is your mission for both of you? What’s your theatre mission for now, for the future? What is your theatre belief? Is that a way to put it?
ASHLEY: Sure. Well, I feel like we have a lovely little mission statement all written out very nice on my website and I completely forget anything about it at the moment but I feel like it just has something to do with keeping a safe kind of inclusive space for children where they can be creative, be themselves, build their confidence and communication and collaboration – all of those things. Just continue to do what we’re doing and it’s working.
ANASTASIA: And really give kids an outlet where they can show us their talents because, you know, theatre is just not about performing and what someone coming into our class may have as a talent might be something we’ve never seen before but we’re providing that outlet for them to pursue their passions, for them to pursue whatever talents are inside their little bodies – believe me, some of the four-year-olds blow us out of the water – they can pursue that there. For me, it’s being an outlet for that.
LINDSAY: Yeah, see? Safety builds creativity.
ANASTASIA: It does.
LINDSAY: It’s amazing. It seems like they’re contradictory and yet that’s the way it works. When they feel safe, they will blow your mind.
ASHLEY: Yes, and we’ve seen it. You have kids coming in shy and, by the end, wow!
LINDSAY: Those are my favorites. Confidence – I think that’s my favorite attribute and skill to see in a student.
ANASTASIA: Absolutely, because it will continue with them their whole lives – whether they are in job interviews or building relationships with people. It’s going to just follow them so it’s one of the most important things, obviously.
LINDSAY: It can change their life!
LINDSAY: People say, “Oh, you know, I went to see a show and it changed my life,” and I’m like, “I have never had that experience.” But I’ve seen it in the classroom or just having these experiences, I think these experiences, we are in the position to change someone’s life and that’s pretty powerful.
ANASTASIA: Yes, it is.
LINDSAY: Cool! All right, Ashley and Anastasia, thank you so much for talking to me today!
ASHLEY: Thank you!
ANASTASIA: Thank you so much for having us!
LINDSAY: Thank you, Ashley and Anastasia!
Before we go, let’s do some THEATREFOLK NEWS!
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Music credit:”Ave” by Alex (feat. Morusque) is licensed under a Creative Commons license.