Performing arts school's 12 months of inspiration in lockdown

Best Theatre Arts

Best Theatre Arts has provided 12 months of creativity online during lockdown. - Credit: Best Theatre Arts

As COVID-19 lockdown restrictions begin to ease, a St Albans performing arts and theatre school is reflecting on an amazing 12 months of creativity and achievement.

Best Theatre Arts has provided a year of online inspiration in lockdown.

"This year would have felt very lonely and very dark without the light of all our wonderful participants shining from our screens and into our hearts every week,” said Lisa Schulberg, Best's artistic director.

Best Theatre Arts

Best Theatre Arts creatives have embraced Zoom for online classes during lockdown. - Credit: Best Theatre Arts

A year ago, on March 16, 2020, plans were made and projects launched, designed to keep young people engaged, happy and mentally healthy during the first lockdown.

Twelve months on, Best creatives can point to an amazing gallery of filmed projects, memories of a fantastic summer of outdoor, socially-distanced performance, and hundreds of entertained and inspired students.

“If you had told me 18 months ago that I would be teaching drama in front of a computer and could feel part of a group, that I could be creative, imaginative, physically active, laughing until I cried, amazed, intellectually challenged and emotionally nourished I would have said that you were mad,” said Lisa Schulberg.

"I have been bowled over by the resilience, emotional maturity, and strength of everyone we have worked with.

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"When you are being asked to be bold and brave in your front room rather than in a studio or theatre you have to be even braver and even bolder, but this created an even stronger sense of belonging, bonding and believing than we ever thought possible.

"We have always firmly believed that what we do at Best supports the growth of confidence, team building, communication skills and underpins a greater sense of wellbeing in our young people – this has never been made clearer than during lockdown.”

All year, Best has run online projects for all ages – toddlers, primary and secondary school children, and even classes for adults.

“We were very quick out of the blocks and had our first classes up and running within 48 hours of the first lockdown being announced," said David Bevan, Best’s co-founder.

"And since then we’ve learned just how creative you can be online. When we started we’d never dreamed of achieving what we have managed to achieve over Zoom.

"But our students and parents were a constant source of inspiration and encouragement and our amazing team of teachers brought so much energy and belief that nothing seemed impossible.”

It all began with a small project, SingalongaBest, to stitch together a song using Zoom – before these became commonplace.

“We’re still very proud of ‘Rock Song’,” said David Bevan. “We didn’t really know if it would work, especially as we’d never really used the Zoom and editing tech before, but its success gave us the confidence to take bigger steps.”

This was followed with Singalongabard, where Best sang its own version of a Shakespeare song.

Then came Zoomania, a 40-minute musical film devised/improvised by the Zoom cast of six to 14 year olds over a week.

“This was a huge undertaking but the end result was amazing and a souvenir for the cast to treasure,” said David.

“The sequel, 2oomania, was even better with genuinely joyous and moving moments.”

Best was able to host three summer weeks, culminating in promenade outdoor performances around the Sandringham School campus.

January saw the launch of two more projects – Maskerade for six to 16 year olds, and James and the Giant Peach for the younger children. 

Students are now enjoying Musical Mayhem and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory up to Easter.

Lisa Schulberg added: “Every single person at Best is responsible for the positivity, energy, and overall success of the last year – staff, children and families couldn’t have done it without each other. 

"At a time when we were physically distanced, we all became so much closer in spirit through a shared interest – the joy gained from the performing arts.

"The incredible thing is that we have all learned so much about ourselves, about what is important, and how positive life can be if we can find the things we love doing and do them with people that encourage us and make us feel good about ourselves, it can help us face so many other trying and testing challenges.”

For this summer term, back face-to-face, Best is planning to celebrate with a performing arts festival, 'Best Fest', where every single age group will have their chance to shine.

'Best Fest' will include musical theatre, plays, live music, film, circus, improvisation, and there will be lots of workshops and activities for all ages.

“We can’t wait to be back!” added Lisa.