Anna (Burgess) Parr '88
After graduation I moved to England for the first time since I was one for university. It was terrifying. Having grown up in Singapore, I found myself very homesick and in deep culture shock. I missed everything about living in a diverse local and school community. Somewhat naively, I had assumed that everyone had a best friend from Latvia and looked forward to eating pancakes with curry for breakfast. Even my transition from school to university was different, as I spent several months travelling independently before landing in the UK.
But as it turned out, the so-called ‘small world’ of Singapore that I had been nurtured in for my entire childhood had powerfully impacted on my sense of justice, perspective and seeing, somewhat ironically, the bigger picture when it mattered. At university I studied drama, theatre and television, with a strong emphasis on community drama and therapy. This took me to work in prisons and in schools for children with special needs. From the very start, I connected with the teenagers in these groups. In this instance, their lives had let them down and every element of my UWCSEA profile was used in those emotionally charged and enriching sessions.
After university, I wrote and taught educational programmes to help develop speech through creative approaches before moving to work in television. I spent many hours as floor manager, writer, producer and director in drama, entertainment and children’s programming. The best part of this work was the people: so many backgrounds and perspectives. I found it motivating and inspiring. But no matter how much I enjoyed this world, I missed the direct impact I felt I had when I worked with children and youth. This eventually led me to retrain as a teacher when I was 28. Teaching children and working in Drama. Hallelujah! I have not regretted it once in 20 years.
Drama has been an enormous part of my life since childhood. It is the most beautiful world to be connected with. Drama unlocks opportunities on many levels for students. It is so much more than simply acting. It’s a ‘value added’ subject which helps students make sense of themselves and the world around them. It helps us all to tell our stories, and understand the stories of others. And it is understanding these stories that can transform your perspective on the world.
As a student at UWCSEA, I was involved in as many productions, arts festivals, small student-led work and drama devising as I could fit into my life at school. My attitude was ‘the more the better’ and I pursued as many opportunities as I could while I was at school. This is something that has continued through my life to now.
The performing arts were already very strong at UWCSEA in my time at school. I remember an inspirational drama teacher appearing for just one year who helped me see the rehearsal process in a completely different light. To celebrate 25 years of UWCSEA he arranged that we tour the UK with a devised Japanese play inspired by Kabuki and Noh. Layered with music, choreography and strong contemporary physical theatre work it was very forward thinking for the time! It was a crazy, ambitious project but the impact it made on the students involved was life defining. It was worth every minute, penny and tear. There are powerful moments in everyone’s life that help shape your way forward. This was one of them for me, and for many others. Many students on that tour have gone on to be professional artists.
The Arts Festival was an outstanding yearly two week ‘takeover’ in February. As a student it was overwhelming, and as a teacher now I often reflect on how it must have been near impossible to juggle everything. I loved every minute of being in the school during that time watching the dance and gymnastic show, art exhibition, music concerts and drama productions small and large. I saw the creative potential in everything we did at that time and it set me up to wonder about wider opportunities. UN night was a beautiful lens on the world. Stunning drums, costumes and colours leaving me breathless and humbled by how others perform around the world.
After many years of questioning myself on how I am helping shape the world, I finally feel comfortable knowing that in teaching at UWCSEA, I am in fact literally shaping the future. The incredible students I have the honour of teaching every day in my drama studio will make an impact on the world which I believe will change the future for the better. I have the chance to motivate, nurture, challenge, support and educate our students through the very powerful tool that is theatre. Drama students leave armed with so much to make a difference to help our world be better at listening to self and others, reflecting on decisions and understanding different perspectives. A better world is a creative, patient, understanding and kind one.