Passion and Positive Effect: The Arts Working in the Community

By Jamie Zabel

Photo Courtesy of Rebecca Salters

Engagement with the arts and arts-based programs is a new primary focus of the Kerrisdale Community Centre in the coming year. As such, the Playbook is highlighting a few instructors already running arts-based programs to showcase their efforts and emphasize the wonderful effects of their programs. I had the honour of talking to one of these instructors, Rebecca Salters.

Who is Rebecca Salters? Currently, Rebecca runs a program called Drama Bugs at the Kerrisdale Community Centre for children ages 1-15. I sat down with Rebecca to talk about how her early, persistent passion for drama and her belief in the power of the arts manifested itself into her children’s program.

Rebecca grew up in Liverpool, England. What better place than the home of the Beatles to become passionate about the arts? She began going to drama schools at the age of three, and as she grew older, she became involved in more proper performances as well. One of her favourite experiences from this time was participating in pantomimes — i.e., theatre performances in the UK generally around large holidays like Halloween or Christmas — that would be on different themes like Cinderella or Peter Pan. The performance she loved the most was performing in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. Following university, she went on cruise ships for five years, working as part of the entertainment team for Royal Caribbean.

All of these different experiences solidified Rebecca’s love for drama and the arts more broadly. Her university experience added another dimension to this. Her degree from Manchester Metropolitan University was a double major in Drama and Community Arts. She explained that the Community Arts side entailed using different art forms and putting them into the community to help with different issues people might be facing. For example, one of her school projects involved working with a group of elementary school-aged boys with behavioral difficulties. They got the boys to participate in workshops to create a drama performance and later a CD, giving them an outlet to talk about and deal with their feelings. It was a project all about bringing the arts into a situation to create positive change, something that Rebecca has witnessed first-hand.

Fast forward a few years, Rebecca is now located in Vancouver and having the time of her life running her ten-week program for children. Now that the program is in its second year, Rebecca has had the time to see the positive effect her program has on the children’s lives. She has seen them come out of their shells; not just in terms of being able to do the program-end performance, but simply in terms of learning to interact with the other kids, even to the point of finding new best friends. Rebecca doesn’t force her kids to do anything that they’re not comfortable with and stresses the importance of how much fun they’re having, rather than how perfectly they are able to follow her instructions. Just like Rebecca found in her own childhood, participating in the dramatic arts has the ability to help children gain confidence in themselves and to become more comfortable in new social situations.

Seeing the power of the arts in action is a unique experience. As a society, we tend to relegate the arts to certain spaces like art galleries or schools, spaces that are enclosed and where the power of art can only go so far. However, in reality, the influence of artistic expression has a reach that is beyond the limits of our imagination. This is because of the arts’ innate ability to bring people together. Above everything else Rebecca has witnessed, this quality of the arts has been the most striking. She sees it in her children as they make friends in her classes just as she saw it in her university projects. At an even more basic level, she sees it in the crowds that are drawn to Vancouver from all over to watch things like gorgeous fireworks displays. The arts — whether it be drama, dancing, music, painting, sculpture, whatever form — is a language that is common to all people. Everyone can admire a beautiful painting just as everyone feels awe and wonder watching a firework explode in the sky. The most beautiful quality of artistic expression is its ability to transcend notions of race, cultural and religious difference, even differences in language. In a world that can have serious issues with division, it’s important to remember what the arts can do.

Rebecca has been able to create a little microcosm of positive change with her Drama Bugs program. Regardless of how well the children can do technically, Rebecca gives them the space to have fun and to have new experiences which develop memory skills, confidence, and, importantly, social and community building skills. Arts education is such an important part of our lives because, in essence, it teaches us how to relate to and ultimately understand other human beings. We’re thankful to Rebecca for bringing a touch more of this understanding into Kerrisdale.