- Various Articles - Secondary
- Interview with Dr Paul Murray, Belgrade English Language Youth Theatre
Interview with Dr Paul Murray, Belgrade English Language Youth Theatre
Nataša Jovanović (Natasha Jovanovich) is an ELT professional ELT with a long standing experience in teaching Cambridge English exams FCE.CAE.CPE.IELTS and US exams TOEFL.SAT.GRE.GMAT. Apart from teaching and teacher training, her translation of the book by Dr Helen Fisher, an American author and research professor at Rutgers University, was published in 2005. The book embraces the issues of gender studies and the role of women in today’s world, business, science and family life. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Paul Murray (PhD) Director of the school, Paul is a native English speaker from the UK who has worked through the U.K. Europe and internationally as an actor, director, professor and art consultant. He has lived in Belgrade now for 5 years and considers it his home. As well as being director of the school, Paul is active within a number of other organisations, is guest professor at several academies and has published a number of articles on the subjects of theatre, education and theatre and development.
This month, Natasha from Angloland www.angloland.rs in Belgrade, Serbia offered to organise an interview with Dr Paul Murray who runs the Belgrade English Youth Theatre (BelTheatre) in Belgrade. Through Natasha’s questions we find out more about BelTheatre and how drama and acting help improve English levels.
With many thanks to Derek Warby for his help in proofreading this article. Derek is an independent manager of chamber ensembles in England, and has a keen streak of linguistic pedantry. www.derekwarby.co.uk, email: email@example.com
BelTheatre is now in its sixth year of working in Belgrade. It is a unique artistic and educational organisation aiming to improve the confidence, creativity and language skills of children and young people aged 7 to 18 years of age. Over the past 6 years we have had the pleasure of teaching over 150 children and producing 13 original productions. We have also arranged exchange visits to other countries and performances at festivals in Serbia.
As we continue to grow and develop our aim is maintain our unique methods in order to make every participant feel valued and necessary to our current and future success. The founder and Director of the school is actor, director and pedagogue Dr Paul Murray.
NJ : Hello, Paul. Tell me something about yourself.
PM : I was born in Leamington Spa in central Warwickshire, England and in 2009 I graduated from the University of Winchester, Faculty of Arts UK with a PhD in Theatre. In 2004 I graduated from University of Warwick, Faculty of Drama UK with a Masters degree in Theatre, Education and Cultural studies. In 1989 I graduated from Bretton Hall, UK with a BA in Dramaturgy and Acting.
NJ: You run a BELGRADE ENGLISH LANGUAGE YOUTH THEATRE – BelTheatre based in Belgrade, Serbia. Tell us more, please.
PM: I am the founder of the school and have worked as an actor, director and pedagogue. BelTheatre is now in its sixth year of working in Belgrade. It is a unique artistic and educational organisation aiming to improve the confidence, creativity and language skills of children and young people aged 6 to 18 years of age.
Over the past 6 years we have had the pleasure of teaching over 150 children and producing 13 original productions. We have also arranged exchange visits to other countries and performances at festivals in Serbia. As we continue to grow and develop, our aim is maintain our unique methods in order to make every participant feel valued and necessary to our current and future success.
NJ : When did you first come to Belgrade?
PM : I first came to Belgrade in 2007. I came here under the invitation of an NGO called ‘Zdravo Da Ste’ in order to present at their annual meeting and from that moment I was attracted to the place and the people.
NJ: You told me the other day that you now consider Belgrade your home. Are you just being English (ie are you just being polite)?
PM: No, I am not just being polite. Before living in Belgrade the longest I had lived in any one house was 3 years, I have lived in the same house in Belgrade now for 8 years and it is definitely home.
NJ: How do you like it here? Did you find it difficult to adapt to new ways?
PM: Like everywhere, there are good and bad points. One thing for sure is that for me it is rarely boring and that is the most important thing. I think that adapting to new and unfamiliar things helps keep us young looking and creative: which are essential skills in my work.
NJ: Have you encountered any cultural differences at all regarding your drama groups’ approach to acting and in general?
PM : It is hard to say if there are any cultural differences and I don’t like to look at things this way too much but perhaps some of the children here are a little more lively, or more open to express their emotions in some ways. I also think young people here tend to be more worldly-wise, somewhat ironically given the fact they have had generally less opportunity to travel than their English counterparts.
NJ: You’ve mentioned you sort of enjoy being a foreigner here because loads of people here speak very good English and are happy to do so. How come?
PM : I don’t like being a foreigner because people speak good English here (although generally they do), I like being a foreigner because realising that I don’t know the complexities of the culture or the language means I spend time observing other things that I would otherwise miss. It is said that the theatre audience remembers less the words of the theatrical event than the visual aspects of the show, I feel that I am in this mode for much of my time in Belgrade. It is a new way of seeing.
NJ: To your mind, how are kids and teens different from those in the UK? Is there a striking difference do you think, or do kids and teens tend to be the same everywhere?
PM: I don’t know if the kids are different in many places; however, the ones I have met in the places I have been are far more similar than different.
NJ: In what way do you think drama and acting in English seem to help kids and teens learn and improve their English?
PM: Firstly, I work only in English and do not have the option of conversing with them in Serbian. Secondly, what I am offering them is the chance to play. They will be able to play the game whatever their level of English. However, in order to be able to play the game most fully they need to be better at speaking English; this motivates them to learn. Also, there is no pressure to learn above and beyond for their own benefit, there are no tests, curricula, no levels, competencies, no official pedagogic measures; I think this again takes the pressure off. One final strange thing is that when performing as an English-speaking character on stage one can pretend to speak English before one can actually speak English. For example, I can be recognisable as French without knowing any French. Performing English before knowing the language puts the language into perspective as being only a small part of our communication processes. Again this takes the pressure off.
NJ: From what I have gathered two prominent names in ELT have contributed to the organisation in this way: Susan Hillyard, Liverpool-born and based in Argentina, and Ken Wilson, who has written plays, radio and TV programmes and countless other supplementary ELT titles. There has been some academic research on the use of drama in ELT, namely by Paul Davies http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ420165.pdf to name but one. It is interesting that you are doing this but there is no ELT involved as such, which I dare say might be a good thing because there is no element of ‘teaching the language as such’ in it, as you have rightly said above. While we were talking about this, I was thinking that there might even be some similarities between Lexical Approach in ELT developed by Michael Lewis and the way kids and adults seem to be picking up English while playing in a drama. I am unsure as to whether I can substantiate that though, but it is certainly well worth further research.
NJ: Tell us more about your trip to Bath, England this spring with a group of teenagers from your drama school.
PM: We were invited by The Egg (the youth arts section of the Theatre Royal in Bath) to come and perform a show and work with their youth theatre members. We travelled with 10 of our members aged 15 and 16 and stayed in Bath for four days. It was a great experience for us all and gave the young people a chance to practise their language and performance skills in front of a native-speaking audience for the first time. I was amazed with how they responded and how much they seemed to develop their skills in such a short period of time (I think it was to do with confidence).
NJ: Who writes the script/scenarios for their classes and performances?
PM: More often than not the plays are written in collaboration between myself and the group with the ideas coming from us all. Occasionally we will do a play that already exists or commission a play, as we did for Bath, by an English playwright which suits the particular needs of the group at that time.
NJ: Do kids and teens get to practise and rehearse the classics such as Shakespeare and Molière first or you have another approach to drama /theatre techniques ?
PM: I have used some classic texts in class and they can be very interesting of course, but at this stage in their educational career I don’t think these classics are always the most effective way of learning how to act or speak English. There is a lot of time required to decipher these text and one falls into the danger of it being a class of text analysis rather than acting.
NJ: Who is your favourite playwright?
PM: Bertolt Brecht.
NJ: Are there any selection criteria as to who can join the drama classes?
PM: Age is the only selection criterion: we start with 6-year-olds.
NJ: How old was your youngest or the oldest student ever?
PM: My youngest student was 6.
NJ: Tell us about the ‘Improvathon’ and ‘19 Tiny Plays about Britain’ staged this June in Belgrade at Decji Kulturni Centar.
The “Improvathon” was a 12-hour non-stop drama improvisation performed and arranged by the eldest group at BELT to raise money for their trip to Prague. The group themselves made refreshments, brought costumes, decorated the space and acted all through the day; it was most impressive, and set an unofficial world record for the longest drama improvisation in a foreign language. The 19 plays about Britain were performed by group 4 of the school; 14- and 15-year-olds. These dialogues of roughly 2 minutes each were first published in The Guardian newspaper in the UK and have since proved very popular with the young people as being ways of practising their characterisation, accents (English regional accents) and stage craft. They are very versatile and contemporary texts and paint a picture of the UK that is by no means rose-tinted or romantic.
NJ : Any special BelTheatre plans for next year or is it still early days?
PM: Always got some plans brewing. We are hosting a group from Rijeka in September and will do a return trip to their place in June 2016. We are also in contact with three other groups in Europe to try and arrange visits for each of our top for age groups. I am delighted to say that we have done as part of our season of activities BelTheatre took a group of young people from Belgrade to Antwerp in Belgium in May 2016 to perform a theatre show and take part in workshops with hosts from the English Youth Theatre in Antwerp.
Other past performances can be seen here http://beltheatre.com/projects/past-productions/
NJ: Any tips for budding actors and actresses or promising performers with loads of hidden potential out there who might be only too shy to give it a go?
PM: A huge number of people tell me that they would love to act or they wish they could try it. We have classes for adults and children alike so if you feel the urge just get in touch. The classes are in Belgrade, Serbia.
PM: Thanks, Paul , for this insightful interview and all the best wishes in all the future projects.
Belgrade English Language Theatre Projects
Hillyard, S - English through Drama (Helbling Languages) https://www.eltsuehillyard.com/
Davies, P - The Use of Drama in Language Teaching (1990)
Please check the Drama Techniques for the English Classroom course at Pilgrims website.
Please check the Methodology and Language for Secondary course at Pilgrims website.
Please check the Creative Methodology for the Classroom course at Pilgrims website.
Reading Comprehension Strategies: The Neglected Tools. An Experience with EFL Students in a South American Country
Viviana N. Miglino Argentina
Interview with Dr Paul Murray, Belgrade English Language Youth Theatre
Nataša Jovanovic, Serbia