19 December 2017 –
It is said that when one goes one should go out on top. That’s easier said than done, but in the case of Wendy Stone that description rings true.
Wendy, who taught English in the high school at Saint Andrew’s, finished up that job at the end of the 2017 school year, but not before directing “Grease”, which was a resounding, widely praised success. And while she will be moving on to the University of the Free State (UFS), Wendy will remain involved with drama at the school.
Doing what she loves best, Wendy Stone directing Grease
Her association with Saints goes back to 2011/12, which was when she first became involved in plays at Saints, sharing her passion for drama and theatre.
Before moving to Saints, Wendy taught English at Curro, where she started a drama society. She also knew long-serving Saint Andrew's teacher Kerry Gower and it was through Kerry that she was able to secure a similar post at the school.
It was a move from a co-educational to an all-boys’ institution, which was challenging in the beginning, she said recently: "It was difficult at first, but I think I prefer teaching boys because they are very forgiving.
"You can fight with them today and tomorrow they have forgiven you. And they are so simple as well, in the sense that they are easy to get along with and it's not complicated. Girls hold grudges and things like that. Boys are very easy-going and I like that."
The character of Saint Andrew's
"Very different, Wendy said, describing the mind-set of Saint Andrew's.
"Saints is a very good school, a brilliant school, and I like the ethos and the family-orientation, and it is not just a place that turns boys into men, it turns them into gentlemen.
"You can spot a Saints' boy anywhere. The other day I saw two of our matrics from last year at the Mall and they just stand out. They are just different because their whole demeanour is different, their whole approach is different. They are just so well-mannered and respectful.
"I think Saints creates very good citizens. That is why it has been a really good experience. I haven't had one unhappy moment here."
Few things in life are perfect, however, and boys, and children in general, can be challenging and there is a trend – not at Saints alone, Wendy pointed out – that concerns her. "The younger generation tends to have this sense of entitlement, which I don't always like. That's one thing I won't miss, which is not to say that I won't encounter that at the university, because it is also full of youngsters."
Her highlights during her time at Saints, she admitted, reflect her passion: "Being obsessed with drama and theatre and everything in that field, all of my highlights are related to that, so that definitely includes last year's 'Waiting for Godot'. That was totally different to Grease and a very different genre, with a very small cast."
The value of productions extends far beyond the stage, she added: "I get to see, with all of these productions, a different side of the boys. You see them one way in class and it is all academic and it is all serious, but then you take them out of the classroom and you go onto the stage and you see a totally different dimension. For me, that is also a huge highlight."
"All of the drama productions – just because I am in my element when I am doing that – were highlights. Teaching here has also been amazing. I have learned. I have taught for only about seven years in total, but I have to say that Saints has been by far the best teaching experience that I have ever had."
Grease, however, was, undoubtedly, the production that stood out above all others.
"I think Grease was probably the most profound highlight of my entire teaching career, because it was just such a massive thing and a huge responsibility as well. But I had a lovely team that I worked with. I had a lot of support, and a lot of support from Mr Thomas in terms of funding and moral support.
"Everybody came together and pitched in. It wasn't just my baby, it was everybody's baby. It was such fun and it was actually a learning curve for me as well. It was only the second time I had done a musical in my life, but this was, by far, more integrated with the whole staff."
Each part seemed perfectly cast, but it was not a simple process, Wendy shared: "It took us a while to sort out that cast. I sat with Jasmine [Antonie] and Clive [Mott] and William [Earl] and Elize [Swart] and we had all these possibilities. It took us about two or three days to sort out that cast. There was a lot of shuffling back and forth. It was a very long process."
Looking within for excellence
Utilising the Saints Music Academy was a huge boon, she continued: "That was wonderful because it is always nice to use your own resources and to give the boys a chance, which is why I also said I didn't want any of the other boys' schools to come and audition. I wanted only Saints' boys to be in it, because I wanted to give them the chance. It is about them.
"We could have easily got outside musicians, but I think we needed to rather give the Saints' community a chance. They were brilliant!"
The effect on the participants in the production was also profound and rewarding, said Wendy: "Each night got better. The kids were confident, but when they saw the reaction of the crowd on the first night it boosted their confidence even more. Then they realised 'we can do this'. That's why it got better and better, because their confidence grew and grew as they went on. It was good for their self-esteem, I think."
Working so hard for so long on something that came with such a rewarding pay-off had other happy consequences, she smiled: "You create friendships and romances. Don't forget the romances! I think there were quite a few.
"The friendships were great as well. I also saw that a lot of the girls in the cast were at the Matric Farewell, not even as a romantic relationship, but as friends. It was very nice to see all of these friendships forming. It wasn't just about work. It was about more than that. The friendships will go on into the future and, for me, it is great to see that."
Now, though, Wendy is moving on to the next chapter in her teaching career at the UFS Centre for Teaching and Learning, but that is hardly where it starts and ends for her. She explained: "I will be teaching the English bridging course and also consulting with post-graduate students on their dissertations, just advising them how to structure them and how to improve their language. It is very language-orientated.
"I also might be tutoring at psychology, but I haven't heard back from them yet. I've got my foot in different doors. I am also doing moderation for the drama department, all their honours' students. I have about three or four feet in different doors!"
Wendy is already highly qualified, with a PhD in drama and education, which is where one uses drama as a teaching method. It includes a specialisation in directing. Furthermore, she has a teacher’s diploma and a TEFL (teaching a foreign language) qualification. But she is not about to stop!
"I love studying," she confessed. “I am a life-long learner. I am totally addicted and now I am doing my honours in psychology. But I want to pursue that and do a masters, maybe a PhD as well.
"What I am hoping to do in the future is drama therapy, using drama to help people with deeper issues. You have to use it for good if you feel passionate about something."
We wish Wendy everything of the best in her future endeavours.