The Catholic Schools Creative and Performing Arts (CaSPA) program’s 2014 Let’s workshops gave about 350 aspiring primary and high school performers a chance to hone their skills with experienced directors, choreographers and music mavens invited to instruct and inspire. Students and teachers alike are ready to embrace the series return.
Let’s Dance. Let’s Act. Let’s Sing. Let’s Play. They’re a call to creative action and one that has produced “goose bump moments” at workshops where participants garner both constructive criticism and praise for the work they create.
The process starts with online video prompts supplied by the industry guests who will mentor students during the full-day workshops, and ends with performance. Students develop skills in scriptwriting, choreography and composition.
CaSPA’s dance advisor Iris McGill said dance workshop participants are given 30 seconds of moves from a professional choreographer to make their own before debuting the work. Choristers are given parts to sing, drama students characters and scenes to develop, and music students the chance to compose original material.
“The intention was to extend their skill development beyond just performance, and to tap into their skills of composition,” she said.
“They could interpret the short phrase of choreography however they wanted – as they saw it, verbatim, or they could pull out the essence or the dynamic quality of the movement then create their own and come in and share.
“That then became the vision for the whole Let’s series – That it would be a celebration of the arts, and that students would contribute.”
The performance of a Year 8 student, Connor, who had worked with CaSPA music advisor James Long to compose his own piece was a highlight, she said.
“The guest conductor made such a big deal and said: ‘We have a living composer. All the composers whose works you usually play are dead but you have one right here’.
“What it did for Connor was lift his spirits. To hear a live orchestra play his piece while his parents were in the audience, it was a goose bump moment.
“We invited him back to talk about the experience at the end of the year and he spoke about how he felt empowered.”
This year, Director Darren Yap, will return as a mentor to the Let’s Act program. He has directed acclaimed musical and theatre productions including Miracle City and The Serpents Table. He has also been a guest lecturer at The Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP) and the National Institute of the Dramatic Arts (NIDA), which counts Sam Neil, Cate Blanchett, Sam Worthington, and Judy Davis as graduates.
“He stopped and directed the performances, re-staged their work, gave them ongoing feedback as it happened and then took that further using the tools and the elements of drama,” Ms McGill said.
“This year we’ve taken that a step further looking at verbatim theatre, which is recording an actual conversation that can be translated into a script for interpretation across different theatrical styles.”
“For Let’s Sing we had Jodie Spooner-Ryan to conduct and really bring out the best in the voices, and she was brilliant. They [students] got to learn their part then hear how very different it sounds with the harmonies.
There’s a real joy and celebration around dance and the performing arts across all the different areas.
“Probably my favourite one was Let’s Play, even though I am a dancer, because it was something unexpected. The secondary students formed this mega-band.
Ms McGill said the conductor was “a maestro in action” who provided live on-the-job training for teachers too.
“As much as this was catering to the skill development of the students, that professional learning and dialogue and mentoring from the industry allowed teachers to see how to get the best out of their students.
Meghan Bassett teaches Years 5 and 6 at St Mary’s Primary School North Sydney and co-ordinates music, dance and drama programs at the school.
She enrolled students from both grades in last year’s dance and drama workshops.
“They had a fantastic time,” she said.
“The kids are so enthusiastic about it and it gives them a chance to choreograph rather than just come in and learn a set piece. It’s a nice way for me to be able to run the dance group at school but focused on the kids and their ideas, and then for them to be able to come to the day and share that whole creative experience. There’s a real joy and celebration around dance and the performing arts across all the different areas.”
Emily Onions, a Year 5 student at Holy Spirit Catholic Primary North Ryde, said she was asked to join the 2014 Let’s Dance program after performing a tap dance in the finals of her school talent quest.
“It was fun but nerve-wracking because I’d never been here before and didn’t know what to do or where to go,” she said. “It was good to get feedback.”
Natasha Moila, a Year 7 student at Holy Spirit College Lakemba, will take part for the first time this year. Her group will put the supplied ‘starter phrase’ choreography to Hawaiian music producer Drehz’s song Heart Cry.
“It has really loud beats and really soft beats so there’s contrast which is good for dance,” she said.
“It’s different to what I’m used to but that’s good because I can try new things.
“Lyrical and ballet are my favourite styles of dance because if you know those two you can do anything. They’re both a good style to let your feelings out, I guess.”
“I’m probably most looking forward to performing in front of other people. I think that will be a good for my confidence and just a good experience in general.”
Schools that took part in 2014:
St Michael’s Catholic Primary Belfield, John The Baptist Catholic Primary Bonnyrigg Heights, Holy Family Catholic Primary Menai, Regina Coeli Catholic Primary Beverly Hills, Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic School Miranda, St Fiacre’s Catholic Primary Leichhardt, St Francis Xavier Catholic School Ashbury, St Christopher’s Catholic Primary Panania, St Michael’s Catholic Primary Stanmore, St Joseph’s Catholic Primary Enfield, St Declan’s Catholic Primary Penshurst, Freeman Catholic College Bonnyrigg Heights.
2015 workshops will be held at Southern Cross Catholic Vocational College Burwood. They are:
Let’s Sing – on July 28
Let’s Play – on July 29
Let’s Act – on August 12
Let’s Dance – on August 13
Read about one CaSPA graduate’s success here.