HOW YOUTH DRAMA CHANGED MY LIFE: Volume 6

Here we ask members of our community to reflect on their experience with youth drama and discuss how it has impacted their life and career. In Volume 6, we hear from producer Robbi James & lawyer and legal editor Shan-Ree Tan.

Robbi James (Producer at Rogue Projects)

“I had a pretty early introduction to the arts. My parents had a company that owned the rights to a series of popular cartoons in the 80’s, producing small touring shows for special events, shopping malls, and school holidays. There were always barrels of character costumes and set pieces in our garage. Occasionally we kids were thrust onto the stage or into the audience to help. It was a very early education on audience engagement, and also the fun and power of storytelling.

As I got older, my Dad’s connections in the arts meant I got to sit in on some pretty great shows, and there is a very lengthy story about my first viewing of Les Mis at the age of 11 that ends in my standing on the Theatre Royal stage after a performance meeting Normie Rowe and totally not understanding the gravitas of what was happening. But that event, and many more like it, meant my heart was always going to return to live performance, and especially theatre.

I spent over ten years performing while studying (I somehow ended up in law school), and before returning to theatre as a producer in 2017 I built a great career in the corporate world. That career, and my eventual study at the Opera House to come back to the arts, would not have been possible without that early introduction to the hard work, passion, and fulfilment that an arts career can bring. Storytelling, and being a part of a community that brings a story to life, takes many different skills, as well as compassion, creativity, and fortitude – and I learnt these things on and behind the stage. I’m more human, and a better producer, for it.”

Shan-Ree Tan (Lawyer and Legal Editor)

“I remember the drama program at my school very fondly. The shows – performed by the HSC students, or sometimes by alumni who would come back for a show once or twice a year – would go up in a modest little space in the Music and Drama building, and when I was 12 or so I would get along and watch students only a couple of years older than me get out under the lights, and make people laugh and feel things, and have the time of their lives doing it. I couldn’t wait to get involved, and it was just as fun as I imagined it would be. I had some wonderful teachers, and I learned a lot from them and from all those experiences putting on shows.

In Year 11 I was lucky enough to be in a production of THE ELEPHANT MAN, as Dr Treves. It didn’t strike me until much later that here I was, this funny-looking little Chinese kid, playing an English doctor in Victorian times, and nobody seemed to mind – they still laughed and cried and enjoyed the show. I like to think that was one of those little things that taught me to expect more out of situations in life than I might have thought was possible from the way things looked on paper, or the way things had been done in the past. In other words, just because I didn’t “look like” the role, didn’t mean I shouldn’t have thought I could do it.

Of course, I was always nervous doing a play. That never really goes away, but I did learn that it was always worse before the show, and the best way to get on top of them was to do all your preparation and then trust that we would all get through it together and think of something. And we usually did. Sometimes it was even funnier than the joke that was written in the script.

I also learned more about what I loved about language, and how a word can have so many meanings and how precise and context-dependent those meanings could be. You have to really pay attention to what really matters when you tell a story – how to analyse every word in a scene to get to the heart of what’s really going on, and how “nothing goes for nothing” when it comes to really bringing out the detail in a play and translating that into performance. And of course, learning a bit about how to master all these things helped my confidence tremendously.

All those things serve me well in what I do now. I practice and write about law for a living, and as you can imagine, many of the same skills are vital to the legal profession, like how to pay attention to the meaning and the nuances of language; how to bring out the meaning of an argument, a piece of advice or a case report; how to prepare for a negotiation or a meeting; and not least, how to not be afraid to speak up and try something new.

I’m a lot older now than when I first got to dress up in costume and perform in that classroom, and I’ve done lots of other things since then, but I still act when I can. And whenever I step into a rehearsal room or on to a stage, it always feels a little bit like going home again, and I love that there’s a place in my life that feels that way.”

Tell Us Your Story

We want to hear from YOU! Send your story on the topic of HOW YOUTH DRAMA CHANGED MY LIFE, and an accompanying photo, to hello@jumpstartyouththeatre.com

Not sure what to say? Here’s some ideas:

  • How did you get involved in drama?
  • How did drama it benefited you at the time / your development as a young person?
  • What you do now?
  • How you applied the skills or benefits of drama to your life as an adult and/or in your career?

We can’t wait to hear from you!

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