"As I became an adult, I aspired to create a space where I could teach all people to play through life." - Michelle Hall
What is your role as a Teaching Artist?
As a Gecko Ensemble Teaching Artist, I shapeshift across various roles. Primarily I am a facilitator and through carefully curated games and imaginative tasks, I create a welcoming and playful space. Within this culture, young people make friends, discover new ways to express who they are and think about who they want to be in the world to come.
Secondarily, I’m a performance maker, working with the ensembles by teaching performance and collaboration skills. I teach the art of listening, spontaneity, improvisation and self-expression, all the key skills a person needs to work with others to share ideas and create. In devising a ‘showing’ I lead the ensembles to explore important questions about our world, about history, identity, justice, magic and through the stories we craft we share what we’ve discovered in performance.
What was your first role as a Teaching Artist?
My first role as a Teaching Artist was for the Minawarra Festival on a community project that aimed to support young women towards body positivity. I was in my first year of teaching and it was really exciting to create choreography and performance for and with young people to nurture their self-confidence and showcase their originality.
I found this pathway as a young person myself who was totally inspired by stories, nature and music. I loved to ‘play’ so much as a child that I focused my whole life on creativity – this was where I felt magical and limitless and I thrived on being with other kids that would make up imaginary worlds with me. Once I even created a whole shop in my parents shed. It was a fashion boutique and I took my mum’s clothes out of her wardrobe, put price tags on them, styled the store with flowers and Gran’s doilies and voila! A theatre was born!
Do you remember your first drama class or performance?
My very first performance was a rendition of a Pam Ayers poem, about ‘Two ugly sisters from Foredom…’ to a room of neighbours at my parents ‘cards night’. I was about seven years old and I perfected Ayers’ Gloucestershire accent down-pat. I had no idea what the poem was about, but it had the adults in fits of laughter and that felt really good, to make grown-ups groan with the giggles. So, I was hooked on being a clown after that!
My first ever ‘proper’ drama class – because my family really were my first teachers – was in Year three at Lymburner Primary School. The teacher was French, and she wore Chanel #5 and raspberry lip tint and her smile was glossy and elegant, she was like a dream. Noone had ever talked of ‘drama’ before. We walked in a circle on tiptoes around the classroom, pretending to walk on a cloud, then ice, then mud, then we were elephants and skaters and happy, sad, angry and silly. It was heaven for me, I was like a free spirit let out of the bottle.
I started taking after school dance and drama lessons aged 11. Going to ‘drama’ was an experience that raised my self-esteem in a place where my exhilaration for music, dance and storytelling was shared by other kids and encouraged. From about age six I knew that ‘playing’ was a useful skill for dealing with grown-ups and navigating life. As I became an adult, I aspired to create a space where I could teach all people to play through life. It’s what I have been doing for the last twenty years and now scientists have proven that ‘play’ is at the core of all human development and social well-being! My instincts were spot on! That’s one of my golden teaching principles: listen to your instincts, it’s every child’s special power.
What does a standard Gecko Ensemble class look like to you?
A Gecko Ensemble class, for me, starts with a warm welcome for every young person that enters the space. The start of class always includes games that ignite playfulness, spark movement and lead us to see and greet each other in a fun way. As childhood has become more and more a digitalised experience, I make sure we remember to practise the enjoyment and warmth of eye contact.
The classes vary depending on who is there and what the terms theme is. My classes always centre on building expressive - body, face and voice - skills through group and partner activities that take place within imaginative tasks and creative challenges. For example, we might play a game of ‘Grandma’s Footsteps’, which is a game about hiding. As we do this, we are learning the skills of breath, focus, complicity, movement, balance, character and cunning. At the same time, we might pick up a coat from a jumble of ‘props’ and start situating the game in an imaginative realm where we become a character of our invention. The game becomes an enchanted forest or a bustling market and the drama that comes from playing will inform the theme we are exploring, such as freedom or power.
This is just one of the ways a class might take shape. If we are in a ‘Performance Term’ our class might be in a rehearsal to get our ‘showing’, audience-ready. Some of the Geckos could be working to design the space, practise a scene or direct a small group in a comedy skit. The ensemble approach enables creative learning through collaboration and each child has a voice in building the show or world or play.
Do you have any words of wisdom for families interested in Gecko Ensembles?
If your child loves stories, drawing, music, history, movement or simply likes to ask questions, when they bring that inspiration into a social environment such as the Gecko Ensembles, it gives them the chance to expand their enjoyment by sharing it in creativity with others.
I have worked in participatory arts and creative learning for many years, with every age imaginable. I am constantly reminded of the power of creativity and shared experience in ensemble drama programs; their capacity to foster joy, positive self-awareness, complex and magical thinking while engendering generosity and care towards others.
At a time in human history when creative thinking has never been more important - in navigating a fast-paced world and for devising solutions to our most challenging opportunities – children, given the chance to develop their imaginative and interpersonal capabilities are set to leap brilliantly into an exciting future.
For further info feel free to touch base with our Creative Learning Team at firstname.lastname@example.org or (08) 6184 4905