By BRUCE DENNILL
Actress, musician and teacher Sharon Spiegel-Wagner is the director of the 2018 Oakfields College Faculty of Dance and Musical Theatre showcase, which gives the school’s students a platform on which to show off their skills for industry professionals, among others.
How does teaching differ from directing? One is about teaching students something they may not have known, while the other carries an expectation of their being able to show off what they’ve learned.
Teaching adheres to a syllabus; a set list of material that we have to get through. Direction is applying what’s been studied or learned and putting our own spin on it. Education ensures that we adhere to a certain standard, but then directing, for me, opens the door for what might be possible using what’s been learned. In anything we try to master, there must always be learning. In teaching, technical boxes must be ticked, and then directing is about seeing if people have moved on from that learning. Also, a director gets to find a voice for his or her own creative interpretation.
How hard do you – or can you – push? After all, you want these students to be ready for the sort of no-nonsense treatment they’ll get in auditions, as well as being able to master the skills they’ll need on stage.
Students are often young so “pushing” would be more about facilitating growth. In my mind, I have an idea of the intention that I’d like to achieve, but I have to be sensitive to the students’ maturity and life experience. There must always be challenges, I believe. Because by being challenged, we grow.
I believe that the performing arts require you to expose yourself and there’s a sense of introspection that’s needed for that.
Students versus professionals, in terms of engaging with work: there must be some ups (no fear, naivety, energy) and some downs (a lack of awareness of the commitment needed).
It’s wonderful how much they want to do things. There are some moments when students suddenly become aware of the full extent of what is possible; of what they’re capable of. That can be difficult, but it’s beautiful. It’s also about building processes and developing ideas, and seeing who feels uncomfortable and with what. One example is when a student wants to explore the use of nudity in a scene in the safest space possible – helping them to explore their character physically as well as emotionally.
What sort of material goes into these showcases – and why? What are these elements designed to show off, or test?
There’s a bit of everything in this one – musical theatre, comedy, drama, romance, horror, hip hop… It’s a buffet. We hit all the marks. The students deserve praise for being able to do so many things in one show. You don’t get to do that with professionals. I have the best fun ever, getting to press pause and see it all again if there’s something that can be improved. The students have to do all the hard work.
The excerpts that are performed are chosen by the students themselves. The lecturers consulted with the students prior to the showcase to explore what they feel best shows off their journey and their skills. There’s a lot of American work, because that is, for a lot of people what’s defined as successful because of TV programmes and film and all the rest. But there’s also some excellent South African work, including strong Afrikaans pieces.
For more information, go to oakfieldscollege.co.za/full-time-musical-theatre-dance.