Be at Peace, my friend…

I’m sure it was based on jealousy that I begged my Mum to let me have Speech and Drama lessons. The people in my class were so confident and outgoing, and I wanted to be like that too. Reality was that Speech and Drama lessons with Sallyanne Vawdrey weren’t about growing confidence (although it did) or about making you an outgoing person (although it helped an introvert to find ways to be less introverted when necessary). In fact, it took me a long time to realise what Speech and Drama lessons with Sal really were all about.
When I started with Sal, I was 12, and really didn’t imagine it being anything more than a passing little thing to do. And I did take it for granted for a long time. I like poems, and being encouraged to read books, and I was okay with that. Somehow though, it got under my skin. In those early years, I learnt my poems, and practiced my readings- I was never as good as some others, but for some reason I stuck with it. And as I grew, so did my relationship with Sally. Lessons were still filled with poetry, plays and books and learning about some of the great writers through history, but often lessons were also about Sally listening, helping, guiding and counselling a struggling teenager. In so many ways, she was therapist and counsellor as much as Speech and Drama teacher.

I was always secretly jealous of the people who were “better” than me, and I was never going to be as good or as confident as the older students ahead of me, no matter how hard I worked. And I even sometimes asked why I wasn’t like some of her other students. And Sally always assured me that it didn’t matter- that I just had to worry about my own work. I was never so discouraged that I gave up, and I cherished the excuse to read and learn so much, it seemed to creep up on me that I was one of the older students, doing harder exams and still jumping onstage at South Street, despite never having had any success.
Somehow, as I’d grown older, Sally was not just my teacher, but she was my friend. We shared stories, and helped each other- although I’m positive she helped me MUCH more than I helped her. And it was only as this older student and friend, I finally understood what studying Speech and Drama with Sally was truly all about. And it’s only in the past few days I’ve found the words to name it.

But a few things first. I always hated being made to wear school uniform when competing at South Street. I thought it was stupid, and made us all blend together. As someone who also sang, where it was all about the right dresses and costumes (and standing out), wearing school uniform was contradictory. What it took me a long time to realise was, that not only was school uniform an equaliser (no matter which school you went too), it allowed each of to let our unique voice to speak for itself. It’s only when I look back, I realise how important this was to Sally. Even her 40th Birthday, with its White T-Shirt and Jeans theme, all of us arriving and appearing as equal, with the expectation and hope that all of us would let our voice speak for itself.

This story may be apocryphal, but it’s how I remember it. When I was studying for my Associate exam, and stressing about my capability to actually be a teacher, and we were discussing why a student might come for Speech lessons. At some point I suspect I must’ve used words something like, “fix a speech problem”. And boy was I corrected- she told me about when Leanne McInnes, her first student, was bought for lessons. She had a lisp that needed to be “fixed”. Sally had declared then, and reiterated to me, that this was not a problem to be “fixed”, but rather part of who Leanne was. Sally’s role in the situation was to help adapt so that others could understand and hear who Leanne was- give her a voice that was clear and true- and Hers!

In reality, Sally didn’t teach Leanne, or anyone else, or even me, how to speak. What she did was help each of us to FIND our own voice, and she helped us to use it- in so many ways. She bought out the best in everyone- encouraging and aiding even the shyest and quietest of students to find a way to speak and be heard. Helping the loudest and seemingly over-confident student to stop over compensating and relax into themselves a little more comfortably. Yes, tongue twisters and breathing exercises mattered, but not nearly as much as she might have led us to believe. Using the beautiful and challenging words of others, great characters of literature to connect with, and writing speeches on strange obscure topics exposed us to the words of the world, and helps us piece together our own combinations of words to shape us into the people we have become in the world- able to speak clearly and confidently with our own unique voice. And not only did she help us find our voice, if you let her, she nurtured and cared for it too.

All those years ago, I didn’t really know why I started Speech and Drama lessons with Sallyanne Vawdrey. And I never imagined how it would shape the adult I have become. I use my voice to speak every day as part of my job, and the voice I use is the one Sally helped me to find and she nurtured!

I don’t know how many students Sally has had over the years, but if her care, guiding and help for others was a fraction of what it was for me, then there are many, many grateful and blessed people out there. My only regret today is not having had the chance to use my voice to tell her how grateful and blessed I am because of her. Yes, she was my teacher and guide- but she was my friend, and I loved her so very much for all she did for me.

It breaks my heart to give voice to what your final months involved, and feels to fundamentally unfair that we will never again hear your voice speak aloud again. But someone with a voice and a heart like yours can never be made silent. Your voice resonates always in the lives of all who knew and loved you. As much as you helped so many to their voice, words to express how we will miss your voice just don’t seem enough.
With so much love- Thankyou. Just… Thank you xox


About Singinsuse

Uniting Church Minister; Wife, Daughter, Sister, Aunty; generally geeky nerd; Harry Potter fan; Collingwood supporter; singer and music lover; lifelong student; have too many TV addictions; unhealthy love of pink!!
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2 Responses to Be at Peace, my friend…

  1. EMPC says:

    Oh my, I have just found your post and I’m having a little trouble composing myself at my desk. I was a student of Sallyanne Vawdrey during primary and high school, both private and in the speech art groups. I wasn’t a very confident little girl, not shy exactly but always very self conscious and never very self assured. I also competed in South Street (in full school uniform!), I was a lazy student, terrible at practicing and never learned anything until the eleventh hour- usually somewhere between my parents’ vehicle and the greenroom. Somewhere along the way I had forgotten the person who helped me to develop the confidence to get up on the stage in primary school, later present in front of my Uni peers and currently appear before Judges and Magistrates in Court (as an advocate…). It had been many years since I last saw Sally and I had been so busy when I was told last month that I didn’t get a moment to let it sink in. Then just this week, a fellow advocate approached me and complimented my advocacy after having watched me in a hard fought hearing, where the odds were very much stacked against me and I found, somewhere, the confidence and composure to keep fighting back to victory. On the way home from the hearing I started thinking about who had made it all possible. Who had transformed the self conscious and nervous pre-teen into the assertive and confident adult? How very lucky we were to cross paths with someone who had such an incredible gift and the power to share it so effectively. Vale Sally, space jump won’t ever be the same xxx

    • Singinsuse says:

      Hi Clare,
      Not sure you remember me, but I remember me. I think you were in the year below me, and my brother James was friends with Kate. Kate worked with my friend Lorenne til recently, so I don’t think we need more proof that Ballarat is a small place 🙂 Thanks for your comments about my memories of Sal- she was truly wonderful, and it seems for both of us, gave us the courage to speak up for ourselves and for others. Sounds like you work now is incredibly important and powerful for those who you advocate for.

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