Alethea’s Journey of Travel, Theatre & Teaching

After graduating from Santa Maria College, Alethea Dreyer (2001, Bevilacqua) went on a whirlwind journey of theatre, teaching and travel. She shares her story in the following blog.

Tell us a bit about the path you took after leaving Santa Maria College.

Theatre, Teaching, Travel and Theatre Troupes were the four Ts that propelled my path after Year 12, and as I continued to follow what brings me joy, Business, Babies, and Balance would all be headings of the second part of my story.

After leaving my adored high school, in which its supportive programs had been nurturing my creative side for five years, the most natural path was to follow my passion into the performing arts sector.

With two solo performance pieces ready for audition, I was accepted to study a Bachelor of Performing Arts at Notre Dame affiliated with an already existing WAAPA program in 2002. After a year at the university, the dean at the time could not support theatre arts at the institution, so they sent all remaining students to finish their degrees at the WAAPA campus.

This was the golden ticket, which incidentally accelerated my learning and devotion to creative arts and performance.

Two years in this inspiring location not only opened my eyes to methods of creating theatre but also placed me inside the ‘performers’ bubble where I had access to WAAPA teachers and musical theatre students rehearsing all around campus and witnessed exceptional acting from first and third-year acting students. These were the most confident people who studied every day to pursue fame! It was honestly like being in Disneyland every day for two years. There were colourful and vibrant people everywhere. I loved my time at WAAPA feeling like a novice at times, failing and making mistakes, which now looking back, were just the ‘flearnings’ (failed learnings) of life.

What inspired you to pursue a career in drama education, and how did your school years contribute to this passion?

The Performing Arts course at WAAPA let us explore performance through dance, movement, and devising while also involving us in costume and set design. It prepared us for future careers by teaching us how to create and sustain a theatre company, including business and budgeting skills. We dove deeply into script writing and theoretical methods established by various practitioners who helped with a better understanding of the audience-actor relationship. I learned so much, however it is a daunting feeling leaving Disneyland without another vision for the future. So, after a long discussion with my mother, an Italian teacher, she convinced me to have a backup plan in case my acting career on Neighbours didn’t work out.

After much deliberation at this crossroad, I gave in and signed up for a Diploma of Education (Secondary) majoring in Drama Teaching at Edith Cowan University. To my surprise, the idea of acting fell away, and my love for watching other young people thrive in the subject took over. You rarely forget the teachers who really saw you, witnessed your vulnerability, supported you when you were afraid and absolutely had no doubt in your potential. I drew on that principle of legacy and wanted to work to that standard, to be just like them. After my first practicum, all I could think about was the teachers who inspired me at Santa Maria.

The very famous Mr Davies and Ms Covich nurtured my love for performing, encouraged and challenged me, and allowed me and all Drama students to feel that safety net in the theatre space. Realising my aptitude and desire to advocate for this subject, I felt it was almost a duty to support other young people in this same way.

High school can be a very daunting place to develop social and emotional skills and navigate the challenges of learning who we are and how we fit in the world as developing young women. Emotional regulation and feeling resilient are like a never-ending game of bumper cars during these years. When bullying, peer pressure, inadequacy, questioning your values and beliefs, friendship challenges, and so many unknowns come into the equation, the theatre was the safest place I could be myself. I had a space to explore the trials and tribulations of the human beings and step into the shoes of characters, making sense of internal struggles and what that would feel like, thus equipping myself with critical thinking skills and the ability to analyse human behaviour. (Which as we know as adults, is a great advantage when it comes to working in the real world.) I developed perspective and compassion and learned what courage felt like.

So, after two years as a teacher in a high school, not only did I witness some inspiring forms of courage by young people, but I also witnessed the courage that both drama and teaching gave me to travel to propel me to the other side of the world independently.

How did your travels throughout Europe influence your perspective on theatre education, and what valuable lessons did you bring back to Australia?

My unexpected desire to travel to London came after a pivotal moment in my life. I got a one-way ticket, applied for a visa, contacted a London teachers’ recruitment company, and made a rough plan for living arrangements. Without hesitation, this was my chance to see the world and teach in a new place. I was gone for a year. Teaching for three months in London was one of the hardest jobs I have ever had. I often say that this school in Enfield had the wildest reputation. What I witnessed, the way I taught Drama and how they valued the Arts, was completely different to anything I had ever seen. Yes, I had worked in a hard to staff school, but never had I ever felt scared in a classroom.

Let’s say that the most valuable lesson I learnt, was how to listen and learn from others, remove judgement, show compassion and just how important it is to build connections with young people. I have no doubt that it was also a lesson in how to develop a thick skin as a teacher!

Upon returning to Perth, I had the travel bug and this time wanted to venture into my heritage. I set new goals and created a life that some could only dream.

In January 2009 I wanted to find a way to fulfil my dream of learning more about the theatre style the commedia dell’arte (alive and well and still a part of our drama curriculum) so, I applied to the Antonio Fava Commedia Academia Scuola Internazionale in Reggio Emilia where I could study and possibly lead me to my next dream, teaching English there. In my application I had to give a reason for being at the school. I explained that I would one day return to Perth and teach it in schools.

What motivated you to start your own business, Into the Mask Theatre Education?

In my application to Antonia Fava’s school, I had to give a reason for wanting to train with him. I explained that there were many gaps in knowledge and lack of resources in the Perth drama teaching circle. Limited and often conflicting information gave me the impetus to create far more interesting and interactive ways to deliver this very old art form to young people than you could find on the internet. I guess you could say this was my first calling to begin my own business as a sole trader delivering fun and energetic workshops for high school teachers and students. IntotheMask Theatre’s name was inspired by the masks of the beloved archetypes used in this Italian style of theatre where we as performers adorn these masks on our faces, literally stepping into their characters.

My dad had always been in business, and it’s funny that I can look back now and think how both my parent’s vocation in life have found their way to mine. In 2011 I began operating the business and running professional development sessions for drama teachers to learn this Italian craft that I became so deeply passionate about. During the next two years, I applied for a grant and was awarded funding to begin a commedia project with the very famous Sanjiva Maggio as my mentor. From here the Theatre Troupes formed and I was able to create and collaborate with some awesome humans, teachers and actors, friends and family to create a show using the commedia dell’arte form. It was a success which then propelled me to create more fun filled commedi-esque shows to tour in schools and be performed at Fringe World festivals in Perth over the following few years.

During this time, I volunteered at a local community theatre group who needed help to find audiences to come along to their shows. With my business instincts, I knew I could help by offering drama classes to children in the community using a local theatre space to do so. With a unique partnership for five years, we grew classes from 30 students to almost 200 children by 2016. Thus, the Drama Club was born.

Can you elaborate on how theatre can boost children’s self-esteem and confidence based on your experiences?

For the last eight years, I have personally witnessed the joy, resilience, courage, and autonomy developed in children who are given the opportunity to express themselves creatively through the Drama Club. From children with severe anxiety to those experiencing a challenging home life, the space, the teachers, and the curriculum itself offer that sense of belonging and safety net to just be in the moment.

Drama’s processes invite vulnerability through play and imagination so that children can access joy and innate creativity. Its curriculum is designed to capture the essence of what it means to be human. Stepping into the shoes of another character can build a child’s observation of their own lives through the eyes of another.

It is a profound subject that goes deeper than most parents have been led to believe. Positive social interactions through games, making it up, problem-solving, increased dopamine that doesn’t come from a screen and the foundations for a growth mindset are embedded there.

The progressively challenging activities are the stepping stones to building a sense of pride, achievement and success. However, not all confidence feels good. As I have discovered in the last three years, feeling uncomfortable for too long is something that not only children can sit comfortably with. Drama assists with emotional regulation, and the ability to recognise emotions, feel them, express them and move through them as a collective of like-minded people is incredibly powerful.

Drama activities, when facilitated by a gentle teacher, can boost morale and self-acceptance and inevitably equip young people with the skills to navigate the world around them.

Based on your experiences, what advice would you give to students interested in pursuing a similar career?

Theatre and entrepreneurship are similar because they demand you to take a risk. We can be so afraid to fail, but failing is part of the journey of growing up and becoming who you are. Be at peace with not getting it right all the time, and be curious as to how you can get back on track again. In my experience, I know when I have followed my head and ignored my gut feeling. So, my advice would be to follow your heart and gut and go where it brings you a balance of joy and challenge. Find your support people, too. You’re going to need them! Finally, know that beginning something is always hard- but do it anyway and don’t worry if you change your mind along the way!

Looking back on your career so far, what are you most proud of, and what goals do you still hope to achieve in the future?

I felt the most joy when I was able to provide a service and solution to children whose parents were desperate for their little ones to find happiness doing something they loved. For those families who saw our drama classes as the non-traditional therapy for their child to connect with creative and wacky imaginative minds because “kids at school just didn’t get them”. I am proud to have provided a safe space for families and children who felt a sense of belonging and connectedness in the group of kids and within pages of a script. I am also proud of the connections made with people as I journey through life. A handful of important mentors and teaching staff whose words of wisdom guided me.  

I also feel most proud of my personal growth, which has intertwined with my career journey. I was led to believe that work and life were separate, but that is very far from the truth in my experience. From a non-confident public presenter a few years ago, building a company has enabled me to step out of my comfort zone and finally feel confident using my own voice as an advocate for children’s mental health and the arts.

Finally, the woman I have become and my achievements in the future will hopefully be a legacy I can leave to many more children in the community, as well as to my own three babies. My specific goal in the future is to go on another adventure for the next 10 years, where I can gain more clarity on writing a book or creating resources for children and teachers. One thing is for sure, creativity, play and imagination will always be the core of what I pursue!

Shaping Future Leaders- Jennifer Oaten

At Santa Maria College, we believe that leadership is a journey of learning, not just a title or position. For over 80 years, our Year 12 students have been at the forefront of shaping our school’s culture through their leadership. As one cohort graduates and another takes the helm, the baton of leadership is passed, igniting the potential within each new group of young women.

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