Ms Lim Xiu Yun (NIE Class of 2012) has embraced the idea of performance since she was a child. But why has she chosen to pursue Drama among other art forms, and what would become of her passion to perform as a secondary school teacher?
She never thought she would make a career out of teaching Drama. But for Ms Lim Xiu Yun, it was the magic of acting on stage that started it all. “I’ve been involved in Drama Clubs ever since I was in primary school,” she revealed. Even during school holidays, she would freelance as a Speech and Drama teacher to pre-schoolers while her friends were part-timing in cafes and ice-cream parlours.
“What captivated my interest in the subject was the way my Drama teacher spoke — with impeccable intonation and inflections. The moment she spoke, you had to listen. I wanted to be able to command attention in a room, just like her,” Xiu Yun recalled.
“I remember having to memorise a passage from Roald Dahl’s ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ and the poem ‘The Hungry Dog’ by James Hurley for a full year before my Trinity London College examination in primary school. I would fall asleep to recordings of these pieces every night in my attempt to perfect the intonations and inflections. Till today, I remember these pieces, and would use them during warm-ups when students need to sound their consonants or work on pitch,” added the English and Drama teacher from Deyi Secondary School.
Xiu Yun feels that she is fortunate to have had inspiring instructors with deep respect for their craft. One of them was Mr Alvin Chiam, her Drama teacher in secondary school. “Mr Chiam taught me the importance of observation in acting—a discipline he took so seriously that he would literally sit on pavements to observe passers-by, decipher their hopes and dreams, and how their thoughts might inform their bodies to react. His passion was so infectious that I came to enjoy people-watching, even though it seemed rather silly at the time. The experience opened my eyes to the meaning of characterisation in Drama,” she shared.
Dr Charlene Delia Jeyamani Rajendran from the National Institute of Education’s Visual & Performing Arts Academic Group was the other huge influence. “As my lecturer, mentor and now collaborator, Charlene taught me the value of play and awakened my understanding of bringing thoughtful and playful energies into the classroom as a Drama teacher,” she said.
When asked what she thought students could achieve from Drama lessons, Xiu Yun replied: “I would like for them to care — about people and issues in the world. As Drama allows the portrayal of different roles, students learn to care for the characters and conflicts depicted in their scripts, and to show concern for community through research. In the planning process, they learn to empathise with the ensemble, and to make a difference when performing a play. They also learn to be constructive when reviewing the play. Without a doubt, Drama is one of the best ways for students to consider perspectives and demonstrate interest in people, places and moments.”
Xiu Yun has often used her training in Drama to bring Character and Citizenship Education (CCE) to life. For example, she has leveraged techniques like “forum theatre” and “mantle of the expert” to encourage improvisation skills. She would also get students to participate in role play, which offers the best teaching moments as the dramatisation allows them to empathise with the story and the characters.
With the safe distancing rules imposed by COVID-19, the greatest challenge for Drama teachers would have to be imparting lessons through a screen. “Although we relish the energy in a physical space, I believe that all is not lost as Drama teaches us to improvise and re-invent. I truly applaud theatre practitioners who have found ways to connect with their audiences. I am sure that teachers too, would emerge stronger by learning to innovate and engage with students during this time.”
At this point, we wondered what Xiu Yun might wish for should she be granted three wishes as a Drama teacher. “I’d like for more schools to have a black box, which is a free space for students to create and express their imagination. I’d also like to see more opportunities for youths to articulate and stand by their values in the arts. Last but not least, I’d like put up a play on the demands faced by teachers on the ground. I just might consider directing it with a group of teachers,” she mused, as the love for Drama in her gets ready to take the spotlight.