Bridgend theatre director says living arts are therapeutic for teenagers
A former teacher of Welsh actor and TV presenter Rob Brydon has called for more drama lessons in schools. Roger Burnell, currently director of theatre for Bridgend county borough council, said acting gave young people a much-needed voice.
He believes his message is an important one as members of the Bridgend community come to terms with the apparent suicides of 17 teenagers in one year. Jenna Parry, 16, was the latest victim to be discovered dead last month.
As a drama teacher at Porthcawl Comprehensive School, Mr Burnell taught Mr Brydon, who is about to return to TV screens as Bryn in the award-winning BBC sitcom Gavin and Stacey.
But helping his pupils find fame and fortune is not his main focus. He sees drama as having a healing and therapeutic role, and much of his work is with disaffected and excluded pupils in the county.
"Twenty or 30 years ago there was resistance to drama in the education system and from parents," said Mr Burnell, who was recently awarded a fellowship by the Welsh College of Music and Drama for services to young people and the theatre. "However, it should be part of the national curriculum."
Under his scheme, on referral from the local authority, young people aged 14 to 25 are encouraged to try different parts of theatre and film production. They might write a script, or train as a stage manager, as well as act and dance. "We steer clear of the X Factor effect that it's all about fame. You are doing it as part of a group," he said
Many of the young people, two-thirds of whom are boys, become mentors and tutors themselves. This year, 10 are going on into acting, stage management or to study at drama college. Mr Burnell also supports plans for a docu-film, giving young people in Bridgend a chance to talk openly about suicide within a series of video diaries.
Production company Green Bay has approached Mr Burnell to find suitable teenagers to film. If commissioned, a spokesperson could appear on the Channel 4 news documentary Dispatches.
Although plans are still in the pipeline, Mr Burnell hopes it will show the county more positively.
"Some will have friends who committed suicide and it would be one way of expressing how they feel about it. It is important to give role models to young people.
"Rob Brydon was not an academic person but found a voice through drama."