Celebrating our alumnae – Belinda Stewart-Wilson

belinda_TNCelebrating our alumnae – Belinda Stewart-Wilson

It was a great pleasure to welcome Belinda Stewart-Wilson back to the school on Tuesday 30th January talking to the Fifth and Sixth Form girls about her career in acting. Drama has always been one of the mainstays of life here in Calne, with our annual productions, Junior Drama, and Four on Tour. We have a vibrant programme and a range of theatrical connections. St Mary’s has also had, for many years, a special relationship with RADA – the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. This has involved the school and the academy collaborating in a number of projects, including workshops on Physical Theatre, Voice and Audition Skills and, in September 2007, a new year-long course was established for the UVI Form – The RADA Advanced Communications Skills Course, a unique programme which runs for our LVI (Year 12) girls. On 6th February, I accompanied the girls who took part this year to RADA and watched them deliver their speeches, which they did with great confidence.

Of course one of the things that is interesting about having our alumnae back is to hear what they as individual girls thought of being at the school, and how it has shaped their lives since. Belinda’s experience here in the first half of the 1980s was a mixed one. As she recounted herself, she spent much of her time focusing on plays and performing. I’m pleased to say that her talent in that area was recognised, and she was encouraged to pursue a career in the arts by the then Headmistress, at a time when this was not generally ‘the done thing’ for Calne girls.

Even in this potted history there are so many issues that I can’t hope to unpick them all in a brief blog so let me just highlight a few.

First, the importance of schools recognising interest and talent across a whole range of activities. I am happy to say that today pretty much everyone who is connected with us agrees that this one of our distinctive features: our academic results are excellent but they are not the be-all and end-all, and we are far from the ‘hot house’ environment that girls’ boarding schools can sometimes be seen to be.

Second, the influence that an individual adult can have on a young person’s life – this has always been one of the great attractions of the teaching profession and it is still as true as ever. Few of us leave school without at least one teacher (in Belinda’s case, the Headmistress) who was a major influence on how our lives turned out. That is a very positive thing, but it’s also a great responsibility for those of us in the profession.

And finally, there is the fundamental value of being believed in. In her talk to the girls Belinda made it very clear that a career on the stage really is not an easy one (of course this is one of the reasons that girls were warned off in the past – why take this kind of ‘risk’…). She spent many years without having major success, and, like most actors, experienced being turned down for parts many times. But she kept going and, as she put it, “eventually became an overnight success”. It would be nice to think that the recognition of her talent here in Calne helped her through the more difficult times. Certainly today, when we encourage girls to take ‘risks’ far more than in years gone by and to go for a huge range of opportunities without being put off by the fear of failure, we also focus hard on helping them develop the resilience and grit that they will need to deal with being knocked back.

It’s often said that girls need more role models to encourage them to do things that have traditionally been closed off from women and we’re so lucky to have so many of those role models in our own alumnae. They also need to see role models who are resilient, creative and resourceful, which Belinda most certainly is. So many thanks to Belinda for coming to see us last week. I am sure we shall all be following her career closely and wishing her continued success.

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If you are interested in learning more about the history of the school, copies of Elizabeth Christie’s book, Consider the Lilies are still available – for further information or to order your copy, please contact Arabella Unwin on arabella.unwin@stmaryscalne.org

 

 

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