Last week, my wife visited Clarence House in London to meet with Prince Charles. She went as part of a group representing an organisation called Hope 2008. She was there to talk about a project that she (and our company) had been involved in. My wife had directed the play, working with several groups of amateur and professional actors. On Easter Saturday we performed in a Passion Play - depicting the last days of Christ's life - in an outdoor production. The event attracted a crowd of approximately 1,000 people of all faiths and races (despite very changeable weather) and received widespread media coverage.
At the meeting, the notion of passion was discussed; not in it's common, romantic or erotic sense, but in the terms of an intensely felt emotion or strong entusiasm.
It was felt that there is a distinct lack of passion in the world today; especially in the lives of young people. They have become so disengaged, so distanced from their surroundings that they feel all too little. Emotions are difficult enough to deal with, particularly during adolescence, that to feel anything 'passionately' can make one feel vulnerable. We are desensitised to so much through our exposure to horror, violence and sex in the media that it is easy to see everything as at a remove; on a screen, on a printed page, in a podcast. We do not like to feel anything which we cannot control.
To be passionate about life is a prerequisite for being an actor (discuss!). Indeed it must surely be a prerequisite for any creative/artistic endeavour. We have to reawaken that childlike curiosity about the world, to find again the sense of wonder we once had. To ask questions, seek answers, and to be passionate. Working with young people, it can be disheartening to find that they know so little about what does not concern them immediately; they have little or no understanding of history, of the wider culture, of geography, of art. We face a generation who only learn things they know they are going to be tested on (and then immediately forget it again!). It is no wonder they lack passion - thay have had it drained from them.
One of the pleasures and priveleges of working with young people is being in a position to rekindle that curiosity. As educators we have the potential to give them exciting. challenging and inspiring learning experiences; ones that have a real-world value and a true learning outcome. That is as long as we are not slaves to testing and league tables; reducing the real people involved to a series of numbers on a spreadsheet. If we are allowed to give them a love of learning for learning's sake, then we have a chance of making 'lifelong learning' a reality not just a Government catchphrase.
Theatre and performance work can provide so many opportunities to learn through experience, to develop empathy, teamwork, problem-solving, communication skills and self-confidence. It requires constructive criticism, reflection and evaluation. Being onstage, as part of a company, is an experience that mixes joy and terror in equal measures. You are vulnerable out there; you are being judged (you, not some artefact) you are giving of your very self. It can be scary. Most audiences understand this and recognise the challenge you are going through, and they will you to succeed. You are going through a rite of passage for them in order to communicate, comment or contextualise human exisitence. They reward you with their appreciation and applause. The buzz from performing can last for days. When you have given of yourself in this way, you cannot help but begin to feel passionate.
The end of the academic year is fast approaching and my final year students are preparing to leave. Some will progress to Higher Education, some are seeking employment, but they will all leave knowing a lot more about themselves and the world around them. Hopefully, they will carry their passion with them and infect someone else with it. If they are passionate about what they do, they might become passionate about all aspects of their life and the World might just improve.