How arts training builds confident kids

A NIDA Open short course will teach life skills that are transferable outside of the stage or studio.

The positive benefits of performing arts training for young people are well established, with report after report demonstrating that early exposure to the arts assists with cognitive development, socialisation, self-esteem, self-expression and more.

Ten-year old Madeleine O’Sullivan is living proof that arts training fosters far more than just well-grounded performance techniques.

‘Whenever I do acting, I feel accomplished,’ she told ArtsHub. ‘It definitely makes me feel more confident.’

With some stage experience already under her belt, Madeleine recently participated in a Screen Acting short course through NIDA Open.

‘It’s to help me when I get auditions to camera and for ads, to help me present myself on camera,’ she explained.

‘I feel like if I didn’t do this course, that if I wanted to go on camera for TV shows in the future, I wouldn’t really know what to do. But doing this course at a young age, I’ll remember what to do if I want to do movies when I’m older.

‘I was nervous at the beginning, but once I started doing [the course] I felt more confident in front of the camera and excited to go back. I also got to see new people that I hadn’t met before and make new friends,’ Madeleine said.

NIDA Open courses are offered at a range of locations in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, and introduce young people to skills including performance techniques for beginners, specialist actor training, script writing and more.

Course tutors are professionals in their field, and are welcoming and accommodating of students’ individual needs, Madeleine said.

‘When I did the course, I think my teacher understood that I was a little bit afraid and she knew that I had never been in front of a camera before. So she was very helpful. You can take your time like I did to find your comfort zone.’

Madeleine O’Sullivan was ‘ taken out of her comfort zone, but that’s how you grow,’ her mother said. Image supplied.

After the challenges of COVID, which saw students across the country deprived of opportunities for social interaction and creative play, NIDA Open’s short courses offer a valuable opportunity for children to reconnect with their peers in a relaxed and engaging setting, while simultaneously teaching them valuable new skills.

Madeleine’s mother, Louise O’Sullivan, said her daughter has definitely benefitted from the NIDA Open course.

‘Madeleine really gets a lot of joy out of performing and loves doing it. But I would encourage anyone who has a kid who’s creative in any way to consider putting their child in some kind of performing arts class or environment, because it does teach life skills that are transferable outside of the stage or studio,’ Louise explained.

‘Some of those skills around resilience and confidence, making friends, socialising, a lot of that has been really challenging for young people coming off the back of the pandemic. So being able to get back in a room with another group of young people is so important and being taken out of your comfort zone too – absolutely Madeleine was taken out of her comfort zone, but that’s how you grow.’

One aspect of the Screen Acting course that was new to Madeleine was improvisation, which is taught alongside character development, script work and the basics of acting to camera.

‘For my stage acting I’ve got a script, so I’m not really used to improvising.  I was a little bit nervous, but since we did improvising every day, I’ve definitely got more used to it,’ she explained.

Madeleine believes that the improvisation skills she’s learned for screen acting will also be useful for her future stage work too.

‘It definitely helps me with acting. If I forget a line, it helps me improvise on the spot. Also, some of the advice they gave me is there’s nothing wrong with improvising, because it helps you get into character a bit more.’

Louise O’Sullivan urged other young people – and their parents – to embrace the creative opportunities offered by NIDA Open’s short courses.

‘If you can spot a little spark of creativity in your child, suggest maybe doing a course. And don’t be intimidated by the NIDA brand. I’ll be honest with you, I was probably myself a little intimidated to begin with in terms of whether or not Madeleine would fit in … But once you walk on campus, you realise straightaway that it is such a welcoming, warm environment,’ she said.

Madeleine agreed, adding: ‘Challenge yourself to do something new, maybe?’

Learn more about NIDA Open autumn courses.

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's National Performing Arts Editor; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on Three Triple R FM, and serves as the Chair of La Mama Theatre's volunteer Committee of Management. Richard is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Living Legend in 2017. In 2020 he was awarded the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards' Facilitator's Prize. Most recently, Richard was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Green Room Awards Association in June 2021. Follow him on Twitter: @richardthewatts