Melbourne Festival: I’ll give up arts festivals for teachers like this

Nilaja Sun’s from New York and let’s hope Melbourne audiences can make up for the disgraceful welcome to Australia she experienced on QandA on Monday night. No Child is beautiful, celebratory and sobering and it finishes on Sunday. See it because it’s awesome theatre or just to let her know that there are people in Australia who believe in respecting others.

No Child. Photo by Carol Rosegg
No Child. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Yes, we’re still going on about it and will continue to go on about it as long as it keeps going on. She was invited to be on the panel to talk about education; she was ignored by most of the panel and witnessed the kind of bullying and disrespect (towards our Federal Minister for Early Childhood and Childcare) that Nilaja works to stop in high schools – and that’s before the panel stopped any chance of having a public discussion about education.

Nalaja spent eight years teaching drama in some of New Yorks toughest schools. Schools with metal detectors at the door, where 18-year-olds in year 10 are doing well, pregnancy or jail is expected, drugs are common and graduating is unusual. It’s a far cry from my high school days where we all our socks pulled ups and trauma was getting a B instead of an A.

Her classes made a difference to teenagers who had no chance and No child is theatre that can and must make a difference.

Playing all the characters from the school, including herself, her performance makes you forget that there’s only one person on the stage and her storytelling reminds us that story teaches more than testing ever will.  It’s the kind of theatre that proves why theatre is so important.

Maybe we can we pass around the hat to get her to spend a few weeks with our Federal parliament? And Victorians can donate extra for time with those who think it’s a great idea to destroy our TAFE system.

I’m happy to give up arts festivals if we can get this kind of teaching in our schools. Even if our worst schools don’t have metal detectors, it doesn’t mean that the children  who go to them deserve anything less than children at ‘good’ schools. I went to a very ‘good’ school and doubt I would have cared if I didn’t have drama classes. Theatre gives lets us see the world from a different perspective; it gives us a moment to experience what our world could be like without being told ‘no’.  With this type of teaching – not only for drama; let’s make maths this fun – it wouldn’t take long for young adults to start making art that questions and to start demanding festivals to share it and to see the best art from the rest of the world.

How much would it cost to get a drama teacher like this into EVERY school in Australia? What kind of difference would this make?

Sadly the likes of her fellow-QandA guests, Christopher Pyne, Lindsay Tanner and Piers Ackerman, won’t see this show. (Can the festival please invite them and see if they even respond?) Nor will the people who make decisions about funding our primary, secondary or tertiary education systems.

This glorious piece of theatre will be seen by people who are generally lucky enough to have had a good education, a tertiary education and are able to buy tickets to an arts festival (or at least exchange then for some words). We’ll talk about it and slam down our sparkling chardonnays in anger, but what will we do?

Anne-Marie Peard

Anne-Marie spent many years working with amazing artists at arts festivals all over Australia. She's been a freelance arts writer for the last 10 years and teaches journalism at Monash University.

Anne-Marie Peard

2 thoughts on “Melbourne Festival: I’ll give up arts festivals for teachers like this

  • Wow, what a surprise this show turned out to be!

    Nilaja Sun’s performance was outstanding; by far the best I have
    ever been privileged to witness.

    Very moving and inspiring; my wife was brought to tears.

    The characters Nilaja so brilliantly portrayed will stay with us
    for some time, especially the old Janitor( our favourite ).

    She is a brilliant Playwright, Actor & no doubt an excellent
    Teacher; her standing ovation for 3 stage entrances at the close of performance
    was well deserved.

    Tickets won through MTC; a
    once in a lifetime opportunity and most probably the best prize we have ever

    What a shame it is such a short season!

  • Pingback:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *