When I was studying a Diploma of Musical Theatre in Melbourne, I encountered crippling stagefright for the first time in my life. I’d been dancing since I was five and doing drama classes since age 10 - so performing onstage was something I had been doing all my life, and loved! But the stagefright was real and sudden. But what was the cause of it all? It was my body’s primitive protective response to the high pressure, competitive environment I was in. Some people thrive in that environment. But not me. I would step out onto stage to sing and my throat would get dry, tense and close up. When it came to dance classes, I would just melt into the background, just hoping to survive without being noticed.
Up until that point in my life, my experiences in the Performing Arts had always been positive. The community theatre was where I found my calling during my uni days. But I left the safe walls of amateur theatre and stepped into the fast paced, competitive real world of singers, actors and dancers - to chase my dream and try my hand at professional Musical Theatre. That’s how this Kiwi girl ended up in Melbourne.
I learnt first hand how pressure and fear tactics can drain a person of their self confidence.
I found out that competitive learning environments only benefit a minority, leaving the rest to fall by the wayside.
I experienced that when your body and mind is in a constant state of stress, it will not achieve and perform what it is capable of.
And it was during this time of my life when I discovered how teaching with aroha, positivity and respect is the only way to make your students the best they can be. I owe so much to my mentor, Claudia Di Cosmo.
I embarked on a journey of doing things my way. I decided halfway through my expensive Diploma that professional Musical Theatre was not for me (sorry Mum and Dad!) But I stuck it out, and as I did I started developing my teaching philosophy. It was also around this time that I discovered Positive Body Image. I refused to mold myself into the person casting directors wanted me to be and so there just didn’t seem to be a place for me to fit in the professional Performing Arts industry.
Luckily for me after auditioning for cruise liners (where I didn’t even get a call back) and Disney Tokyo (where I discovered I was “too tall to be a princess”) I had an upcoming audition for children's theatre. It was the wholesome and educational nature of the work that drew me in, and it turned out to be the fulfilling opportunity I was searching for.
The audition room felt welcoming and safe. The audition panel made me feel like they wanted me to succeed. And I did succeed. I smashed that audition and my severe stagefright was nowhere in sight.
I sang, danced and acted in front of thousands of young people, in over 700 performances over two years. My stagefright no longer crippled me. The creatives I worked with during that time, continued to inspire my teaching philosophy - showing me how a safe learning environment gets the best out of people. The professional Performing Arts industry doesn’t have to be a place of competition and fear. My experiences during this time proved that to me.
Rebekah Robertson is a fully qualified, registered and certificated teacher with extensive Performing Arts experience.
Rebekah is the founder and creative director of PPAM.
She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English, Theatre and Screen & Media (University of Waikato); a Diploma of Musical Theatre (APO Arts Academy, Melbourne); and a Graduate Diploma of Teaching in Secondary (University of Waikato). She has vast experience teaching in New Zealand Secondary and Intermediate schools. She is a singer, actor, dancer and choreographer. She has worked as a professional actor touring New Zealand and Australia. She has been involved with countless community musical theatre productions, onstage as a performer and as choreographer. Her most recent credits include Mamma Mia, and Blood Brothers with Hamilton Musical Theatre, 2022.
I decided that I wanted to change the way we teach the Performing Arts. Education is how we can make a difference in this world. My hope is that students who learn the Positive Performing Arts Method ® as tamariki, will grow up with a work ethic that values aroha, positivity and respect. They may even become teachers themselves and pass on what they have learned. They may even work professionally and leave their mark on the industry.
Teaching with positivity, aroha and respect isn’t about being ‘soft.’ In fact, embracing these ideas makes us stronger, working to build resilience in young people. PPAM has zero tolerance for teachers yelling at students. Teachers will never lose their temper and yell at students (it’s more common than you might think.) Disrespectful behaviour is simply not tolerated in PPAM. This goes for students and teachers alike. Our classrooms must be safe learning environments.
Too often after school Performing Arts Classes aren’t taught by qualified and registered teachers. As a result the skills and benefits from studying the Performing Arts are lost to “just playing games” which are often lacking in real learning value. I am incredibly passionate about developing those skills and benefits, while also making classes fun and enjoyable. I am certain that I would be a very different person had my Mum not enrolled me in classes when I was young. The life skills gained are invaluable - everything from improved self confidence to developing effective communication skills.
It never ceases to amaze me that in Community Theatre there is such a vast range of people who work full time and give up their evenings and weekends to be involved: lawyers, scientists, teachers, accountants, uni students, engineers. Why do they do it? For the love of performing! This is what PPAM aims to instill in our students, a lifelong love of the Performing Arts and may they reap the benefits. Regardless of the career your child will have in the future, the Performing Arts will enrich their lives.