Learning Through Theatre

Many years ago I had the great pleasure of experiencing the true magnificence of Geoffrey Rush as his royal highness in ‘Exit The King’. His portrayal of a dying monarch at the Belvoir Street Theatre was once of the first times I had opportunity to go and enjoy the theatre.

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A small group from school had traveled to Sydney on an arts excursion. While the trip itself was a memorable learning experience, the play gave me a unique opportunity to learn about death, power and relationships.

Recently I have been teaching Year 9 History. We spent the last few weeks immesing ourselves in the knowledge of the harrowing experiences Australian soliders faced in World War I, focusing on Gallipoli.

Students in my class often tell me they would enjoy learning far more from film or television but found it difficult to engage with ‘Gallipoli’ featuring a young Mel Gibson. Perhaps it was the 1980’s soundtrack… I have suggested they watch the recent television series.

This week I was lucky enough to attend ‘Black Diggers’ at the Canberra Theatre. An incredible performance by some remarkable actors brought to life the experience of Indigenous Australian soldiers during the war.

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‘Black Diggers’ focused on the struggle they faced with their family, the terrible treatment at home, their desire to enlist and fight and their hope things would change upon their return. We know over 1,000 Indigenous Australians enlisted and fought, reviving no change in their treatment after the war.

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I have encouraged students to try and see the peformance while it is here in Canberra. I explained that it is an incredible opportunity to learn through Theatre as I did during school. I wish I had managed to arrange a formal excursion to ensure they had this opportunity.

Australia has a long way to go with reconciliation and I only hope this play and others in the future will have the capacity to spark a change in the understanding many have of the darker side in our history.

As Shakespeare wrote in Henry the VI, Act 2, Lord Saye “And seeing ignorance is the curse of God, Knowledge the wing wherewith we fly to heaven.”

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