Staff Spotlight - Clodagh Rycraft
Every Friday we feature a member of our staff in our Staff Spotlight! This week, we spoke to Drama, Public Speaking and Filmmaking teacher Clodagh Rycraft.
What interested you in teaching?
I attended Speech & Drama classes from the age of 5 and when I completed my Leaving Cert I had no definite career in mind, but I knew that drama needed to be a part of it. I came to teaching in a roundabout way after I studied drama at the DIT Conservatory of Music and Drama. I loved the course because it offered a wide range of subjects to explore including acting, directing, devising, filmmaking, production, drama in education and the opportunity to take part in several ‘in house’ productions and in second and third year to explore teaching practice and theatre in education. I really enjoyed the course - particularly the college productions and the drama and theatre in education work experience - but when I graduated I wasn’t sure of the area I wanted to specialise in and was of course aware of the precarious life of a full time performer. I began by taking any work that came my way in the arts and was cast in a number of stage productions and managed to get some roles in TV and film, I worked in administration in a small theatre and taught drama part time in Performing Arts schools in Dublin. Still a little undecided, my friends and I from DIT decided to go travelling for a year which was such a great experience.
When I returned to Ireland I taught part time in several primary and secondary schools around Dublin and I completed my Licentiate Diploma with the Leinster School of Music and Drama. It was then that I really began to appreciate the important role drama in education can have in the development of young people. I decided to explore this further by completing a BSc in Education at DCU. This course enhanced and added so much to the knowledge I had from DIT and the Leinster School and I really enjoyed and benefited from it. Drama played a large part in all my dissertations and presentations and convinced me even further of how the involvement and study of drama enhances and enriches our lives. My mind was now firmly made up and now focused on a career in teaching drama.
What makes teaching drama exciting?
I am very lucky to work in one of the few schools in Ireland to have a dedicated drama department and to work with a dynamic group of teachers. We work together as a team and are constantly learning from each other. I am so grateful for the freedom we are given to be creative in the material we select and the work we produce.
Drama is an exciting subject for me to teach because it has the capacity to entertain, to inform, to question and to educate, and it is also a wonderful medium for the delivery of social education. During our improvisation work we explore themes of racism, bullying, old age etc - the list is endless. When exploring a character for improvisation or a character from a scripted play, students are given the opportunity to think, feel and experience life as that character. On another level, I find the exposure to great literature and writers very exciting, for me and for the students I teach, and in any one day my students can be working on selections from so many periods - Greek to Restoration to Modern. The research that the senior students are required to do for their drama exams gives them such a great appreciation of literature and theatre. I also love our annual theatre visits, which are so important and a fantastic way to enhance what we are learning in class. Hopefully these trips will help the students to develop an enjoyment of theatre for the rest of their lives.
Public Speaking: In this age of technology so many young people are losing the art of live conversation and communication, so we encourage our students to use their voices to highlight issues they really care about. Through their research and being exposed to other student’s topics they learn so much about what is going on in the world around them and this also helps them to keep interested and up to date with current affairs, I find we can have so many interesting and varied discussions in class about all sorts of topics. Standing in front of an audience is daunting but it is a place most of us will find ourselves in at some time during our lifetime.
Filmmaking: I love the excitement of filmmaking and films, in my early twenties I got an internship as a runner in RTÉ which gave me a great insight into working behind the scenes. I met the producer, writer and director Ferdia MacAnna there and went on to attend his excellent course on screenwriting. Film is visual and so much can be said through actions rather than words. I enjoy watching the students develop their imagination and creativity to bring a story to life and how a story can be portrayed in a completely different way on screen to a live performance.
Why did you choose to teach at Alex?
When I was studying at DIT I did my drama teaching practice in Alex at the age of twenty and I loved the atmosphere and the great buzz in the school. I was also very impressed with the great sense of enthusiasm and appreciation for the arts in the school. In my late twenties I was delighted to be invited to interview for a teaching job and as the saying goes ‘the rest is history’ – I am still here! It is a wonderful school with a great staff and full of lively, enthusiastic students and I feel very lucky to be part of it and to be teaching a subject that I love and really believe in.
How have you adapted your teaching for Covid-19?
The relationship we build with our students is very important in the drama and public speaking classes and this has been more important than ever during lockdown. Online teaching has its challenges, but the students have risen to the occasion and I am very impressed with their commitment, enthusiasm and dedication to their drama and public speaking classes each week.
During the first lockdown in March 2020, we were preparing the students for our annual Festival of Poetry and Drama which takes place in early May. I was on maternity leave at the time but in conversation with Lynn Brehony and my colleagues the decision was made to bring the Festival online and this meant adding another dimension to our teaching – acting to camera!
I helped to adjudicate the competitions with our outside adjudicator Maeve O’ Donoghue and it turned out to be a really positive experience for all who took part. It was wonderful to see the students learn a new skill and perform in a completely different medium and I was impressed with the inventive and imaginative approach the students had to the filming of their selections. Bringing the Festival online was a revelation for the drama department, we now know that in spite of what level of lockdown we face, there are solutions and we just need to be as creative as possible in finding them! The 2021 Festival will be online this year.
What has been the highlight of your teaching career so far?
There have been so many highlights, and for me personally, the greatest highlights in my teaching is in helping the ‘quieter’ students grow in confidence as performers because I know that the confidence gained will permeate through every aspect of their lives. They will have greater belief in themselves and this is something that we as drama teachers encounter quite often.
The completion of the HWC was also a real highlight and to have such a wonderful space to stage our large scale plays with the Junior, Senior and Intermediate DramSoc and the TY musical, it adds so much to the work we can present, my favourite production so far at the HWC was the Intermediate DramSoc performance of ‘The Light Burns Blue’ by Silva Semerciayan. The Concourse is a more intimate setting for the smaller productions and we have had many great successes there too, from performing in the round to working on a script based on the refugee crisis called ‘Fugee’ by Abi Morgan.
It is always exciting to see the different elements of a production coming together and I love to see students find their niche. Not everyone wants to perform on stage and there are great opportunities for backstage work, be it stage management, designing and painting a set, researching and planning costumes/make up of a particular period, props management, learning about the importance of the backstage crew and experiencing how everyone learns to work as a team to create a successful production. Backstage work at our productions has been the impetus for some successful and rewarding careers for past pupils in the professional theatre both here and abroad.