Acting out your dream

23rd October 1998 at 01:00
Producing the school play in her first year of teaching was a rewarding challenge for Sarra McDowell

Silence fills the auditorium. The lights go up to illuminate the stage. I stand back in the darkness, trembling. My breathing becomes irregular. Why am I so nervous and tense? This is, after all, merely a middle school production in front of pupils, parents and staff.

I glance through the side curtain and see a sea of shadowy heads. On stage the action is under way. The minimalist set looks impressive; the lighting has really captured the mood of the scene. The cast seem confident and natural; their voices are clear and expressive. What was my fear? It looks fine, absolutely fine. Relax, Sarra, and enjoy the fruits of your labour.

I have always been a writer and a hopeful purveyor of all things dramatic, but to decide to write, produce and direct an adaptation of a rather dated, yet in some ways socially pertinent, novel was a challenge in my first year of teaching. I adapted an American novel into a musical suitable for key stage 3 pupils. Welcome Home Jellybean, a story about a mentally challenged teenager who has lived in institutions all her life until her family brings her home, lends itself to many issues regarding mental disability and how families cope with a special child.

I wrote music and lyrics so that after some scenes there could be a song as a kind of interlude.

Playwrights and directors often say that they had a "vision" about their creations. I knew how I wanted this theatrical experience to look, almost from its birth. I was elated that we, as a team of pupils and staff, had fulfilled this "vision". None of my other academic achievements matched the joy that I felt when I realised I was fulfilling my dream.

Sarra McDowell was teaching at Gartree High School, Oadby, Leicestershire, when she produced "Welcome Home Jellybean"

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