Setting the stage for the future of performing arts education

WHEN Taylor’s University first launched Malaysia’s first conservatory degree programme in performing arts last February, Faculty of Social Sciences and Leisure Management School of Liberal Arts and Sciences senior lecturer Mark Beau de Silva could not have foreseen the hurdles and challenges that Covid-19 would bring.

While many educators teaching performing arts may still find it difficult to adapt to online learning, especially for disciplines that are much more practical-based, de Silva who is an award-winning writer and director known for his works such as Stories for Amah, Sisa Sisa and Big Head Potato Head is turning the tables on the fate of the performing arts education for Taylor’s University.

The show must go on… line

“As an artist and an educator of the performing arts, I believe that the show must go on. To survive this pandemic, we must learn to live with the situation and continue to thrive despite our limitations, ” said de Silva.

As the year progressed, the pandemic consequently provided the academic with the necessary disruption that gets him to rethink the future of education, with a strategy that would allow practical-based programmes to become more resilient and robust to face future challenges.

“With the whole world coming to realise that the future of the performing arts is in dire straits, we have to find a balance to ensure its continuity no matter the weather – and this means finding a hybrid between the virtual stage and the physical stage. No doubt, technology will be more involved in the creation of arts, whether in class or on stage.”

Bringing back the magic

The KLPac resident director admitted that with lessons conducted via virtual platforms, there was no real way of telling if students are genuinely participating in the activities.

With this predicament, he attempted to culminate all that is traditionally present in a drama lesson into an online class, via a simple question: “How do I bring magic into my class?”

Like many great artists, de Silva improvised. He knew he had to pivot his teaching from just purely stage performance to performing for video.

Mark Beau de Silva with his student and co-director Syazani Zikry, directing The Actor’s Studio (TAS) founder Datuk Faridah Merican for a short online play Zoom with Ma.

“Imagine Romeo and Juliet in the 21st century, with Zoom sessions as the only way to send love letters, ” he said.

It is with this principle that de Silva was able to creatively formulate a new way of teaching his practical classes like acting and drama.

He conducted his classes synchronously to his students online – in real time by integrating various technological tools to assist with his classes.

“In trying to replicate the intimacy that a practical class would require, I would combine digital tools such as Taylor’s Learning Management System (TIMeS), online virtual platforms and audio and video notes, ” he said.

Being crafty despite limitations

De Silva confessed that when it was time for assessments and evaluation, he was in awe of the creativity and innovation that his students exhibited.

“When it was time for my students to share their monologues, I was blown away by the sheer creativeness they possess, combining their acting skills they learned in class with a touch of technical wizardry!” he remarked.

The Taylor’s Bachelor of Performing Arts (Honours) will hold an entrance audition on March 20. For more information on the audition and the programme, click here.

Have a knack for creativity and entertainment? What’s your gameplan? Join Taylor’s Digital Open Day on March 6,7, 13 and 14 by visiting