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Student stories - Arts

Drama takes the stage as entire class gets ‘A’ grade

An array of top results and prizes are shining a spotlight on the Drama department at ACG Parnell College.

In the recent Cambridge exams, every student studying AS Drama received an A grade. One of them – Spencer Earwaker, now in Year 13 – received a High Achievement Award for gaining the top mark in New Zealand.

There’s been success outside the classroom, too. In last year’s Showdown awards (the Auckland secondary school production competition) ACG Parnell College students won Best Lighting and Best Supporting Actress awards and were nominated for Best Direction and Best Play. It was the school’s first year of entering the event.

Unlike many schools, Drama is compulsory at ACG Parnell College for all Year 7 to Year 10 students. Amanda Burnett is the school’s sole drama teacher so will eventually teach every student at the school.

“The kids in this school are so passionate about it,” she said. “They get involved in so many ways in class and at an extracurricular level – Shakespeare groups, our big school musical, theatre sports, junior and senior drama. And once they’re in, they’re hooked. We become such a close family.”

While students learn about the historical, social, political and cultural context of plays and the implications of where and when they were written, Ms Burnett also has a unique approach to the subject’s practical side.

“I tell my students I’m in the business of creating actors. I want them to be versatile. I want them to go into an audition, grab a script, analyse it, choose a character and work out the best way to use their voice, body, movement and space to communicate that character to the audience,” she enthuses.

Next on the plate is the whole-school musical production of Oliver, which will open on Tuesday 11 April. More than 80 students will appear on stage and another 30 behind the scenes. A strong vision of the set is already developing.

“When you read the musical and can see in your head how the script will look on stage, it’s a good indication it’s the right one,” Ms Burnett explained. “And we have such incredible actors and actresses here who are very wise and honest in their acting and performing. I can’t wait to see them do it justice.”

Drama and Music make up ACG Parnell College’s Faculty of Performing Arts. In last year’s Cambridge exams, the Faculty received Top in World in IGCSE Music (Caleb Miles Probine); and High Achievement in AS Drama (Spencer Val Earwaker) and AS Music (Sylvia Brewer). Overall, 85% of the Faculty’s AS students received an A.