Growing up in a small town in Nova Scotia, Canada, Rebecca Shatford was painfully shy. That started to change when she discovered drama classes at age 10. She liked the experience so much, she ended up going into acting in university. Since then, she has taught drama in countries like South Korea, Russia, and Thailand. Now, Shatford is the educational manager at Dreamaker (卓美教育), a drama education company based in Beijing.
Dreamaker was founded in December 2010 by James Zhang. Since then, the company has experienced tremendous growth.
“When I started in July , there were four students,” says Shatford. “Now, we’ve got 1,600 set to start classes in February.”
The company is associated with the Helen O’Grady Drama Academy, an international franchise founded in 1979 by Australian actress and educator Helen O’Grady. Currently, over 60,000 students in 27 countries around the world attend the organization’s classes every week.
Shatford insists that Dreamaker runs a drama program, not a theater program. In theater, the kids perform for an audience; in drama, the kids are the audience. There are no auditions. There’s a zero tolerance policy for bullying and kids are encouraged to praise each other, which encourages social interaction.
“The key is not to tell kids ‘no.’ Discipline is a positive discipline,” says Shatford. “We want to make them feel good about taking risks.”
Dreamaker’s activities include regular classes, demo classes, drama competitions, teacher training camps, and after school activities. For now, the group caters to two age groups: ages 3-6 and ages 6-10. In the future, they plan to run drama programs for ages 10-14 (launching in February) and 14-18.
Classes usually include 15-20 students, with two teachers present at all times (one local, one foreign). Dreamaker has four Chinese teachers and nine foreign teachers on staff. Many have drama backgrounds, hailing from countries like Canada, the US, and Thailand. All staff undergoes a three-month training process. (Pssst! They’re still hiring.)
For now, Dreamaker’s clientele is made of up of Chinese students, probably because of the company’s remote location. It straddles the border between Xicheng and Haidian Districts – a big commute for expat families.
Shatford says cultural differences can be an obstacle. “Chinese kids are taught to be very rigid at school, so they’re very shy in the beginning,” she explains. “But the progress has been remarkable. Their energy level shoots up [in class]and sometimes has to be brought down.”
Expat families, take heart: Dreamaker is expanding to Chaoyang District within the next two months, possibly around the Chaoyang Park area. Though the new address hasn’t yet been confirmed, Shatford says they’re already in talks with the owner of a potential venue.
The Chaoyang classes will most likely take place on weekend, last 1-2 hours, and focus on kids 5-12 years of age. To encourage kids to get involved, Dreamaker is offering a 10-30 percent discount for foreign students on its classes. If you’d like to get a sneak peek, Dreamaker hosts free demo classes at its Haidian location every second Sunday.
The company is also working on forming partnerships with several international schools, including the Care for Children Special Needs School (CfCS). So who knows? Maybe Dreamaker will be coming to a school near you.