Rhiannon reflects on…the great drama teacher behind every great actor

‘Tweetingit – Rhiannon Reflects in 140 characters

“All the world’s a stage” and those who guide you on to the stage and prompt you when you stumble over your lines, will never be forgotten

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As you may have gathered from previous posts, I have been “into” theatre for a long time. My parents were both in CAT (Campaign Amateur Theatre) in Ely and I was occasionally drafted in to play a small role –  a skipping little girl( Gigi) or a member of the lollipop league (Wizard of Oz). Alongside this was both of my parents’ love of theatre, and musicals in particular, meaning that I was exposed to it from a young age.

I wasn’t, however, a confident child. My dad often says he doesn’t remember that I was shy, but I certainly didn’t like being in front of strangers. When I was 3, I spent an entire holiday “preparing” for the holiday talent show. I had the whole of “The Ugly Duckling” down to a fine art. I could quack away with the best of them, and not just saying the word “quack” – oh no, it was more than an onomatopoeic word – I could make a very good duck sound.

It came to the night, I was in a party frock ( I imagine, I don’t remember, I am just setting the scene), up I get to the front of the cabaret hall with an entire holiday camp of people staring back at me and, I open my mouth…..and I bottle it. Much to my parents’ dismay, I couldn’t do it (this has been mentioned on a number of occasions since 1989). A whole week of torment; me singing the same song over and over again, came down to me only managing to utter Humpty Dumpty. I’m sure there’s no need to say it – but I did not win that talent show (although I did win “Miss Haven” a few years later. I am not sure what I did, but I remember saying how much I loved Jason Donovan – see earlier “Rhiannon Reflects” https://playhousepickings1.wordpress.com/2014/05/15/rhiannon-reflects-on/)

Nothing really changed in the confidence stakes until I got to high school and met a wonderful array of influential people and was thrust into drama classes with Mr Maughan – Keith.

Keith was completely mad and not everyone “got” him. He was a massive character with a massive heart and a bonkers sense of humour. Going into his studio, you would find him bouncing around the room, waving his arms around, playing a character he had just made up in time for the next drama class.  Every moment with him was entertaining.

Later on in high school we started cleaning his drama studio for him – we would find coffee cups that were god knows how old, piles of papers, photos, books – some probably quite important – littered around his “office.” But life was too short to spend oodles of time worrying about such trivial things when there were so many other more exciting things to do. Obviously there is a balance to be had but he certainly taught us to have fun and not to worry.

During our 6th form drama piece, he encouraged us to spend entire days acting like 7 year olds ( we were performing Blue Remembered Hills – a play designed for adults to play children). Running around the school, pulling pigtails, sliding on our knees down corridors, finger painting and constantly fidgeting – I am sure the rest of our teachers loved it.

Other than ensuring we did the best we could in this piece, I think the idea of getting us to play out these roles as 7 year olds, was to make us feel free – adults worry too much about what other people think, children don’t care – so just think and act like a child. Obviously there are times for being sensible – and the moral of Blue Remembered Hills is that you do have to grow up eventually –  but what Keith taught was that you should have fun and don’t let the world get on top of you. As we got older, other good lessons were given – ensure you drink plenty of good red wine (something which he ensured we did after his funeral when his wife and daughter kindly decided that his friends and family should make the most of his wine cellar), eat good cheese and make sure you have good friends around you (all of which he did and had in abundance)

Keith was the life and soul of everything. He looked after his students and friends (many of whom overlapped), drew them out of themselves, and developed everyone in some way or another – even those who had no hope in going further in the drama world.

There were a handful of teachers who had a profound effect on the person I have become and, for this, I cannot thank them enough. But they do say that behind every great actor, there is a great drama teacher. I may not have become and actor in the tradition sense, but life is just one big play isn’t it – mine being one he helped devise, the lines for which he helped me learn and which, with changing times, has been adapted, developed and rejuvenated. In part to him, my play has not been a flop. I know I am not the only one of his friends and students who feel like this. I wonder whether he knew, before he passed away, that he prepared so many of us for the theatre and stage of life, how much he affected those he taught and what an amazing teacher he was – I really hope he did.

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About Playhouse Pickings

Theatre blog run by Rhiannon Lawson; a civil servant, extreme tea drinker and theatre reviewer.
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