Nina Chabra reflects on the Theatre Arts Conference, getting mind-blown, and giant smiles

A Giant Smile On My Face

My experience at Day 1 (30th June) of the Theatre Arts Conference 2023, organised by SDEA, started with hearing Dr Ananda Breed say, ‘Transformation is all about positionality’ and ended with listening to 2 schools’ SYF students talkback. Just before hearing the students speak, I left Vaishali Chakravarty’s presentation about fostering urban kids’ life skills and intelligence, and she ended with, ‘ We need to take young people seriously!’ - this was all serendipitous for me to hear. 

It was truly a dramatic day, those kinda movie moments, where the character goes through a full-on day of listening to dynamic practitioners, then the brain doing some information gathering, while I paced out the day with some hot teh and honest conversations. And then going home on the train with a giant smile on the face.

Those kinda moments.

A Series Of Experiences, Right Where I Need To Be

After completing the ETLA course earlier this year, I’ve been noticing the ways I’ve been engaging students in drama education for the last 5 years. It sounds a bit weird to say it like that, but I legitimately had an out-of-body experience whilst doing the course. It was like I was hovering over my self, watching myself and my other course mates as we learnt. It was such an important period for me, that I definitely have walked away with a peace of heart from the self-reflection heavy component of the course. 

And my experience at TAC was the best supplement to the above experience - I met quite a few people there, some friends, some strangers, but all of us have had those moments of out-of-body experiences. And it was awesome to know that I was on a growing path, and to feel it in and through the community, was such a pivotal moment in my professional training and development. I knew I loved every moment I showed up at work. The easy, the challenging, the downright weird moments. Just last week, I had a P2 student ask me, ’Cher, is the world a simulation?’ And I gave a swift answer, even though there was a momentary stunned-ness on my part. I said, ’Everything you see in front of you is real! No need to worry.’ 

As I said, downright weird, but I loved it. And it kinda sealed these experiences I’m having, just being in SDEA’s orbit. I thrive best when I happen to be in overlapping community networks, and I know I’m right where I need to be. 

See what I did there! I did a quick reflection within a reflection as I’m writing this. Inception style! 

Standout Moments at the Theatre Arts Conference

So now, I want to go back to some standout moments at TAC.

Dr Ananda Breed’s presentation - Listening for Change: Arts-Based Approaches to Inform Justice, Education, Health and Wellbeing really drew me in with the title already. Her vast experiences with negotiating conflict in places that endure war and its aftermath and her Mobile Arts for Peace project, led and emphasised oneself’s sense of self as an educator. To de-center from our own experiences, and to truly listen and motivate true listening in our drama outreach methods. She gave an analogy of a tree and what all the parts of a tree symbolised, to create an organic mode of looking at conflict. It was a profound begginning of my day at the conference. 

I continued having these mind-blow moments throughout my day. Ainul Farhana spoke of her experiences using drama for children 2-3 years old, which was an age group I’ve never worked with before. Basing off child psychology studies, ‘Let them have all their emotions.’, she said. As a way of navigating that, she shared a ‘rippling method’, about introducing teachers with drama techniques first and anchoring the students with a story always, and the magic happens when the workshop prompts help the students unpack the learning point themselves. She also engaged the audience with a ‘Kindness Ball Toss’ activity that really drove home her sharings too - This I always love - A ‘get off my butt’ activity!

I went to have a quick prata and teh and continued on to Vaishali Chakravarty’s presentation on her work with urban kids in New Delhi. I took away so many affirmations of my drama methods with the students I've worked with in Singapore. She recognised that the kinds of issues and accessibility the urban youth have now is very unique to the zeitgeist. And that is fundamental. That they can only learn by their own discoveries. She quipped ‘Drama is a great way that constantly demands intelligence’. There are life skills to be imparted, and they differ with every kid. Through drama, we as educators also should push ourselves to discover ways to guide them to find that - life skills. 

By this time, it was already 6pm, and I was fading out from the mind-blow. So it was nice to end with a talkback session with Kuo Chuan Presbyterian Secondary School and Victoria School, after they performed their SYF plays for the conference delegates. ( I missed the performances sadly, because there was an overlap with the previous program). I was especially excited to hear the Kuo Chuan students speak. I was an alumni, graduating back in 1997, when there weren't any drama programs in the school at all! I love having talkbacks with my own students too, because there’s always fabulous moments where you can see, whilst the student themselves are speaking, they have reflected about their experiences(as they are speaking), and are genuinely surprised about how they blurt out their own thoughts. Learning from themselves is their life journey, I’ve always believed. 

Being at TAC, my 1st time ever, has filled me with much joy and assertiveness. I’m continuing on my own journey of professional development and it’s never been about the destination for me. I own that now.