'I am devastated that this program might not exist': Local drama school battles to keep its doors open

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'They learn that who they are matters' (Image: Isabel Byers School of Speech and Drama)
'They learn that who they are matters' (Image: Isabel Byers School of Speech and Drama)

English author Sir Philip Pullman once said that "Children need art and stories and poems and music as much as they need love and food and fresh air and play". 

It’s this philosophy that drives the Isabel Byers School of Speech and Drama, a local school that uses drama as a tool for empowering and developing young minds across the country, especially in under-resourced communities. 

"We do everything in our power to make drama affordable and accessible for all… We are passionate about not turning students or schools away," Isabel Matthews tells Parent24 of the school she founded six years ago. 

Since then, Matthews says the school has proudly coached vulnerable children in more than just creative expression. 

"When doing drama the only tools at your disposal is you. Your voice, your face, your body, your imagination and all of it is exposed. Drama gives students permission to make mistakes, to fail and try again, to be silly without ridicule and to be vulnerable in a safe space. They learn that what they have to say, what they think, what they experience and who they are matters". 

Doing something right

"We’ve had students win scholarships at private schools… Distinctions in public speaking competitions… and one of our students won a full scholarship to the National School of the Arts," Matthews says of the rewards reaped over the years, not discounting the smaller victories. 

"It's when a student can now raise their hand in class, with the knowledge that it's not important if they get it right, but that they tried. It's in the quiet and everyday moments, impacting the choices they make for the betterment of themselves. To us that's success".

ALSO READ | How this local teacher uses drama therapy to help children learn

Battling to keep its doors open 

For many years, the school has been sponsoring lessons in cases where passionate schools and students have not been able to pay in full, but like so many, the school has been hit hard by the pandemic. 

"We've been unable to pay our 46 dedicated staff and teachers during this time. Our financial situation has been dire for all of us," Matthews says, telling us that despite offering online courses for free, many of the students are still unable to make the transition. 

As a last attempt to save their school, a funding page has been set up, with the goal set at around R400 000. 

"The fact that we cannot teach and do what we love is heartbreaking to us all. I am devastated by the prospect that this program will cease to exist, because we will not have the financial resources to relaunch and continue teaching our students. We need financial resources to survive, to be able to start again, until the program itself can sustain us". 

The school has only managed to raise around 6% of their goal amount and is asking South Africans to "Please help save our drama school". 

Find out more about the school and how you can help by visiting their website, www.isabelbyers.com

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