BWW Interview: President of Drama Queensland and Drama Teacher Dana Holden

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BWW Interview: President of Drama Queensland and Drama Teacher Dana HoldenNext up on my local artist's segment is such an incredible woman who has inspired and continues to inspire me in so many ways. Her name is Dana Holden and she's the President of Drama Queensland, Drama Teacher and A/Head of Department of Teaching and learning. She is also a member of the Queensland Advocates for Arts Education, a past board member of Playlab Theatre, and a QCAA panellist, endorser and subject matter expert. Dana holds a Masters in Creative Industries with a focus on the role of Education Manager's in arts organisations. In 2016 Dana was awarded the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Fellowship in New York, working with schools in curriculum design for all subject areas from prep through to tertiary level. Dana's work as President of Drama Queensland has been focused on building a strong community through developing social events for members, providing curriculum advice with the QCAA, advocating for arts education and professional development. I'm very fortunate to have had Dana as my high school drama teacher and I'm equally as fortunate that I've been able to maintain such a beautiful mentorship and friendship with her. Here's what she had to say..

VIRAG: How did you become involved with drama and theatre?

DANA: The exact moment or time I cannot remember. I always remember loving watching and performing everything related to theatre. I had the most amazing parents and primary school Music teacher who fostered my passions and interests. My high school Drama teachers were all wonderful as well. I took part in musicals and plays all the way through both primary and high school and was part of Drama classes and local productions in Cairns where I grew up. Cairns has a great arts community so for that I was fortunate, even if we didn't have the volume which Brisbane, or the rest of the world, has.

VIRAG: How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your role and duties as the president of Drama Queensland as well as a high school drama teacher?

As President it meant that we had to postpone hosting the Drama Australia National Conference which was a difficult decision. Myself and my co-Director of the conference have been working on it for well over a year and the core team for about a year, so postponing it and now needing to do additional work is a bit of a blow. However, if that's it then we can count ourselves lucky. Beyond the conference we are working to put together podcasts to help our members across the state, as well as to help keep a sense of community and connection. Drama teachers are so good at that. We also collated a range of online resources from both local, national and international companies and organisations. I've asked teachers to support local first where possible to help keep our Arts industry going as much as we can. If we are in a position to help then we should.

In my roles at school my original platform did not work effectively at the beginning of the first week of term. However, I did find success and now my students and I can now engage quite effectively online. I can't tell you how elated I was to hear the voices of my year 12s for the first time this term. We have been able to work and share ideas and thoughts and collaborate. The most important thing I believe is for them to know I am here and ready to support them and they are still important, their learning is still important, and that everything will be okay.

VIRAG: What has been the challenges of moving drama classes and curriculums to an online learning format?

A lot has been ironed out over the first week and I believe most classes are now finding success. I hope that students and families know that kids are at the centre of all of our decisions and thoughts. All of the teachers' concerns have come from fear of not being able to help kids, which just goes to show the types of people who choose to become a teacher. Teachers are amazing.

In regards to Drama online, local companies and teachers across the state have really come together to share resources and opportunities for creativity. We're so lucky in this subject to turn what could be barriers to learning into a chance to try something different. Queensland Theatre have created a great set of online resources for The Scene Project, La Boite and shake &stir have also created digital resources and made them available, as have many other local companies. The Drama teachers at my school have developed resources and are working collaboratively so that all students across each year level has the same access to learning materials. The year 10s are writing monologues as part of weekly activities, the 11s and 12s are researching forms and styles and accessing multiple avenues to expand their understanding of theatre and how to shape and communicate meaning. I know there is effective and rigorous teaching still occurring across the state in Drama classrooms and I'll be taking a number resources and tools with me when we're back in the classroom.

VIRAG: I can imagine that as a result of your respective roles, you would be spending quite a few nights weekly attending a live theatre show? How are you spending those nights instead?

This is actually something I've thought about a lot! I am rarely home for dinner and so actually going home after work has been quite a change in pace for me. That's not to say that what I was doing was an unhealthy thing or not, I just can't help saying 'yes' to things as many arts teachers can probably understand. I love my profession and what I do, so getting to go to so much live theatre and attend meetings or run PD is all part of what brings me joy. Instead of these post-school activities, I have been catching up on tv series and movies that have been on my watch list for a long time. I have also watched a lot of the live shows available at the moment from West End and locally (such as the IsoLate Late Show). Of course, I read a lot so that's continued, and I've also completed a ridiculously difficult monochrome puzzle and an art work. The final thing taking up my time is organising a bathroom renovation from afar at a unit which had a burst pipe and is currently unlivable. That I could do without.

VIRAG: I think when we are working full time, it's very hard sometimes to find time to let our inner creativity out and be creative. Do you manage to find time throughout your busy week to be creative?

In my "usual" week of shows and meetings and so on I think I could still say that I am being creative. Every day as a teacher in a Drama classroom I am being creative. Whether that's designing lessons and learning experiences for students, facilitating the direction of plays, storyboards and so on. Even in meetings, if they're good meetings, you can be creative if it is solutions-focused and about creating ways to engage with people further. I would become bored if I wasn't performing my roles in a creative manner. It's not in me to do nothing or not think about how I might try to do something differently.

VIRAG: As an educator and someone working in the arts sector, what would you have to say to a year twelve student or anyone really who is considering studying drama and working in that field?

My advice to students who ask me this question about getting into the arts is to be prepared to work hard, to make connections early and build all of your relationships. Success can come through perseverance, who you know and luck, not always in that order. I would never dissuade someone from following their dreams, but if you know what the pitfalls can be then you can plan for them and hopefully have more success as you navigate the tricky world of the creative industries.


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