All the world's a stage – the importance of performing arts in a school curriculum

Posted on 11th May 2017 in Music, Drama, Performing Arts

Training in acting, music and dance is one of the very best ways to build confidence and nurture creativity, writes Stefan Anderson, Principal of Tring Park School for the Performing Arts...

Open day was coming to an end and the father of a prospective pupil approached me and said: “Mr Anderson, your school is nothing like I expected.” Well, I thought, no school suits every one, child or parent. To my surprise, he then went on to say: “My daughter was the one who insisted that we come to your open day. My wife and I didn’t want to. We were convinced that your school would be full of children who are arrogant, brash, pushy and in-your-face. However I couldn’t have been more wrong. Your pupils are a credit to the school. They are so confident, self-assured, polite and welcoming. My daughter will definitely be auditioning for entry.” The way he emphasised ‘confident’ struck me in particular.

Confidence has been described as the belief in one’s ability to succeed. Every child deserves the chance to flourish and thrive. Building confidence in children is crucial and acquiring this confidence provides the foundation of so much of what our children will achieve in their career and their lives.

There are many ways to build confidence in our young people, sport springs to mind, but I believe that training in the performing arts is one of the very best. Most children have an interest in one or more of the disciplines of acting, music and dance, which can be nurtured. What are the benefits and skills that children learn from an education in the performing arts? The most obvious benefit is confidence. Piano teachers are famous for using the phrase ‘practice makes perfect’: mine certainly did and she was absolutely right. The best way to build confidence is to work hard at the task in hand. This can mean hours of training on his or her instrument, in a drama rehearsal, in a dance studio, in an orchestra or singing in a musical theatre ensemble or choir. The culmination of this hard work is the performance on stage where you have the confidence to appear before an audience and demonstrate what you have achieved. These experiences give young people excellent self-presentation skills, which are valuable far beyond the world of the performing arts. They are articulate and can converse with adults in a mature way. They are unafraid of public speaking and have a bearing and poise which projects their self-esteem and belief in what they are saying and doing.

Creativity is developed through training in the performing arts; no two rehearsals or performances will ever be identical. The rehearsal process by definition involves experimentation to find out what will or won’t work: a monologue might be recited in 10 different ways before settling on the best version; the choreography of a dance is constantly being refined; the tempo of an orchestral movement may be altered and so on. Children learn to approach work from different perspectives. It develops their imagination and powers of self-expression.

Performers often refer to ‘the company’, which means the cast of the show. Teamwork, learning how to work and get along with others, is another one of life’s most useful skills. The play, the dance number, the concert will not succeed, either in rehearsal or in performance, unless all the participants work together. The need to collaborate is essential. In a ‘company’ there is less emphasis on winning or losing and more importance on the team succeeding as a whole. Children also learn how to compromise, if necessary, for the greater good. Linked to this is the emotional development of the child. Working closely with others helps to promote inter-personal skills. Artistic creativity fosters emotional creativity. It helps children to make sense of their own emotions as well as those of their peers. They learn how to empathise with others and respect their feelings. Some roles in shows will be bigger than others and not everyone can be a ‘star’ in every show. This will lead to disappointment for individuals at times but, in my experience, once the show has been cast young people are incredibly supportive of each other, whether in a lead role or in the chorus. We are back to the ‘company ethos’.

Perseverance, the ability to continue in spite of difficulty, is another key skill. This is linked to ‘practice makes perfect’. No performer can succeed without this. Perseverance allows us to acknowledge our failures but to learn from them and improve in conjunction with determination and focus. There has always been a debate about the relationship between talent and hard work. Of course a dancer has to have the right sort of physique to succeed professionally but the best physique in the world is worth nothing without rigorous training. On a related theme the Canadian novelist and humorist, Stephen Leacock, said: “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the luckier I get.”

Just as there are a number of ways to build confidence in children there are a number of ways to train in the performing arts. Tring Park School for the Performing Arts offers one model. We pride ourselves on the fact that Tring Park is unique in the balance it gives between performing arts training and academic education. Pupils spend half the day singing, acting and dancing and the other half of the day studying the full range of academic subjects. Pupils take the standard 10 GCSE subjects in Years 10 and 11 including English, mathematics and science and at sixth form there are a choice of 24 A Level subjects. If you want to do double maths, physics and chemistry you can! Not what one would normally expect of a performing arts school.

Of course the principal motivation for a child coming to Tring Park is their love of one or more of the performing arts. At the junior level, children choose either the junior dance course or the theatre arts course, which combines the disciplines of acting, singing and dancing. At sixth form there are four courses: acting, musical theatre, dancing and commercial music.

We are proud of our alumni. Lily James appeared in the title role in the recent Disney film Cinderella and played Juliet in Kenneth Branagh’s recent production of Romeo and Juliet. Daisy Ridley is Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Jessica Brown Findlay was Lady Sybil in Downton Abbey and is currently playing Ophelia in Robert Icke’s production of Hamlet. Drew McOnie is the Olivier Award-winning choreographer. Max Westwell has danced with English National Ballet for the past twelve years and will soon be appearing in the West End production of American in Paris. There cannot be many teenagers who haven’t heard Ella Henderson’s single Ghost.

We are equally proud of those alumni who have gone on to pursue non-performing careers. Last year’s Head Boy, a superb dancer, is now studying medicine. Former pupils have gone on to Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial, UCL, Durham, Edinburgh, New York University and the University of Southern California to read subjects such as physics, mechanical engineering, history, French, architecture and theology.

Our pupils are our best ambassadors and the best advertisement for a rigorous training in the performing arts combined with a thorough academic education.

What they learn, during their time at the school, will give them the skills and knowledge they need to face the future with confidence. There is something I forgot to mention. They also have a lot of fun!

Read more about Tring Park School for the Performing Arts on School Search.

This article first appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of Prep School magazine, which is available now. For more information visit