If all of life’s a stage, then inwardBOUND is developing actors for it.
When Nora Crothers “accidentally” auditioned for a place in Nanyang Technological University’s drama and performance degree program, little did she realize she had just stumbled upon what would become her life-long passion, the fruit of which is the inwardBOUND School of Drama.
“It’s one of those stories. My friend was too ‘chicken’ to go on her own and so I went along and since I was there, I auditioned as well and got in,” Crothers, 34, recounts to City News at inwardBOUND’s premises along East Coast Road.
During her time at NTU, she not only fell in love with the various aspects of drama, excelling in acting, directing, stage managing and more, but also discovered the transformative power of the artistic medium, which over the years evolved into the core of her work with youth at inwardBOUND.
Upon graduating with first-class honors, Crothers brought drama into the classrooms of Commonwealth Secondary School, using it as a tool for students to “rehearse life.” As an English and Drama teacher, she developed drama-in-curriculum programs primarily based on a methodology called process drama, where students explore various contexts by applying the fundamentals of drama.
“For example, one of the classes looked at the story of a girl with bulimia. Over the course of eight to 10 weeks, the students examined the issue from different perspectives as they did improvisation work in roles such as the girl herself, her parents, her teacher, her friends or even the police.”
“Process drama is one of the most powerful mediums as not only are all the language and performance skills involved, but also, as students bring their own experiences to the story, they develop meaning for themselves,” she elaborates.
After leaving the teaching service in 2003, Crothers soon founded inwardBOUND, using it as a platform to bring a comprehensive battery of drama-in-curriculum programs into more schools. To date, her programs have been taught in over 20 schools with a common outcome being that participants grow in their confidence, social-emotional well-being as well as relationship management skills.
Another aspect of inwardBOUND’s work with youth is as a drama consultancy, supporting schools in staging large-scale productions, including competition pieces for the Singapore Youth Festival. Since 2001, inwardBOUND’s festival entries have garnered numerous accolades, including four out of the six Gold with Honors awards up for grabs last year.
As a consultant, Crothers has been involved in producing various genres of shows, from the classics to the contemporary. Again, it is her ability to harness drama as a form of catharsis that has resulted in her most successful pieces. One award-winning show she staged that still remains very dear to her is 4th Storey, which depicts how four students who have just received their O-Levels results start talking about their lives after getting stuck in a lift together. Reminiscing about the production, Crothers shared, “It was memorable because it involved many of the real stories of the students and the various pressures they faced, merged together. After we showcased this to their parents, many of them cried.”
What anchors her motivation behind devised pieces such as 4th Storey is a belief that theater can be a form of social therapy. “Theater is a mirror of what happens in reality but shown in a way that you may recognize it. Reality happens 24/7, but if you can see reality in a suspended period of time and examine yourself, your ideas, other people’s ideas as well as your realities, then maybe there is a possibility of change,” she reflects.
A more direct way Crothers employs drama to facilitate change is through developmental workshops for organizations and communities. Using a range of applied theater techniques that often incorporate improvisation and role-playing, participants are given the opportunity to distance themselves from situations or conflicts to examine issues in a secure environment.
From helping managers at an Indian multinational corporation better handle cultural differences when posted overseas to aiding teachers in tackling the sticky issue of racism in classrooms as Singapore’s migrant population grows, the workshops have been very effective at fostering a higher level of understanding at the various businesses, government bodies, non-profit organizations and schools where they have been run. A common feedback Crothers receives is that many participants “didn’t realize what was going on” until they saw the scenarios reenacted in front of them.
|PHOTO COURTESY OF NORA CROTHERS
In the near future, Crothers hopes to replicate what she is doing with youth using process drama, with a younger group—children. “We are taking the techniques which worked for older people and breaking it down into smaller parts for the kids,” she explained.
With a focus on “rehearsing little people,” Crothers has devised a series of four- to-five-day holiday programs based on the Christmas story for children aged three to 12, which will run during the upcoming year-end school break.
Next year, inwardBOUND will launch four different 10-week long children’s drama workshops. Part of her aspirations as she begins working with younger people is to be able to open their eyes to the world at large. An idea she has to help them broaden their scope is to have each class sponsor a less-fortunate child from a foreign country.
In the long-term, Crothers’ vision is to see her programs opening doors into places beyond the shores of Singapore, making a difference especially to groups of people who may not otherwise have the opportunity to be empowered through drama.
School of Drama
103 & 105 (A) East Coast Road
Tel: +65 6345 5143