Tag Archives: theatre

The Importance of Arts in Primary Education, by Ghislaine Kenyon

I’ve recently been spending time with opera singers – not as a punter in some fancy opera house, but as external evaluator for the Learning and Participation programme of Garsington Opera. Garsington does indeed have a ‘house’, a light-filled structure set in the gentle hills of the Wormsley estate in Buckinghamshire. And the people who attend operas on this main stage do dress up and picnic on the lawns; the audio is of clinking champagne glasses and refined chit-chat – ‘country-house opera’ in every sense.

But now imagine a day when the sounds echoing across those same lawns are those of primary age children playing, chasing, cartwheeling, taking over the space in a way that children offered such green expanses just do. It’s the interval of the OperaFirst performance of Fantasio – a comic fairy-tale romp by the 19th century composer Jacques Offenbach. And at the final curtain call the cast are greeted with Glasto-style whooping from the audience of 600 school children with their teachers. Parents waiting outside on pick-up duty can scarcely believe that this deafeningly enthusiastic response is to an opera – an art-form considered by so many to be elite and exclusive.

Let’s reel back a bit – this OperaFirst performance was much more than some worthy ‘take children to culture’ exercise of the kind that most publicly-funded arts organisations are obliged to offer.  (I’m not being critical here – an actual experience is better than none!) Instead it was the culmination of a serious bit of work by Garsington’s L&P department in local state primary, secondary and special schools: Fantasio was explored creatively in two intense days of workshops involving singing, stagecraft, composition and shared performance. As a former teacher observing these workshops, it’s clear that to me there’s a straight line leading from the skills of the creative teams working in classrooms to that rapture in the opera-house a few weeks later.  It starts with Karen Gillingham, Garsington’s  talented and charismatic creative director of L&P, who brings together a small and well-matched group of professionals for each school: a singer, a music director a stage director, and a vitally important L&P producer, who sorts out every practical detail from school liaison to sourcing a singer’s favourite lunchtime sandwich.

At Stokenchurch Primary School stage director Hazel Gould gets groups of Year 5 children to freeze- frame the emotional moments of the opera: ‘show me Princess Elsbeth upset at the death of her friend the jester, which happens on her wedding day to a man she’s being forced to marry by her father the king’  the creative and disciplined working situation has been so well set up by this time that the children speedily tackle this complex situation. At Milbrook Primary School, singer Charmian Bedford kneels on the floor and addresses one of the songs from the opera directly to the children sitting two metres away. It’s about that unwanted wedding day that she’s so dreading. One or two children giggle (as they put it, ‘singing really high, not like normal singing’) but most are open-mouthed, admiring, surprised. Music-director/composer John Barber helps children compose their own songs on this theme: ’we’re going to compose a song giving the princess some advice. Imagine you’re the princess’s maid and you know she’s making a big mistake agreeing to this wedding’.  A boy pipes up ‘My lady, I know that you want to keep the peace, but this prince might not be what you think he is’. This is how children (or anyone) can learn about the key elements of opera which are, very simply, story-telling through acting and singing. The OperaFirst does educate children about opera, of course, but, as I witnessed it, it also demonstrates more generally the power of an arts-rich curriculum in primary schools. The arts reach us because they address us 9781472961051emotionally. There’s nothing more motivating than that and it’s the reason why I, having worked both in schools and in the cultural sector wanted to, no, needed to write The Arts in Primary Education. By showcasing projects  such as OperaFirst and many other exemplary arts-based curricula in schools across the country I’m hoping that schools leaders who often for understandable reasons have left the arts as box-ticking, fringe activities, will find reasons to embrace them wholeheartedly.

Ghislaine Kenyon worked formerly as Deputy Head of Education at the National Gallery and then Head of Learning at Somerset House. She has curated several exhibitions, including Tell Me a Picture in 2000 with Quentin Blake. Her latest book The Arts in Primary Education is out now!

Explore the theme of migration with these Drama exercises for secondary students

With the subject of Migration Migration Playsbecoming more pressing and relevant in twenty-first century Britain, it is vital that we are able to have an informed debate about it, particularly with young people. Drama and performance can become a vehicle for those debates and feelings that we all have around migration.

Fin Kennedy’s new book, Migration Plays explores the theme of migration through four new plays. He explains the background to the book in his introduction here:

“Migration Stories was a Tamasha schools project delivered by playwrights and directors working in several different secondary schools in London and Derby. The format involved twenty-five Drama students from Years 7 to 10 coming off-timetable for a day and participating in exercises designed to unpack their thoughts and feelings on the topic of migration, and encourage them to respond creatively to what they were learning. These sessions were facilitated by the director, with the playwright taking notes. Each playwright then went away and worked up the ideas generated into a twenty-minute script for performance, with parts for the whole class.”

Migration Plays shares these plays along with director notes that you can use with your Drama class. This is then followed by a section of drama games and more involved exercises to generate characters and stories.


Two exercises to try today

Section 1: Exercises to unpack the theme of migration

Exercise: What’s in a name?

Set-up: Participants sit in a circle on chairs or the floor. This is usually the first activity of the workshop.

Teacher instructions: Invite everybody in the circle, one by one, to say their name. It can be their first name, their middle name or their surname. Then go round again and ask each student to share with the group one thing about their name. It could be one of the following:

  • What your name means.
  • Which language or culture is associated with your name.
  • Do you like your name?
  • Who gave you your name?
  • If you were a boy/girl what would you have been called instead?
  • What would you prefer to be called if you weren’t given your name?

Notes: Pupils generally respond very positively to this activity, especially if it is used as the first activity of the workshop. Most people like sharing something about themselves, but of course people can be given the option to ‘pass’. The teacher must be ready to positively respond to each name and to keep this activity flowing. We find that this activity inevitably brings up some migration references, and then these can be explored further in the subsequent activities.

Section 3: Improvisation exercises

Exercise: Creating obstacles and conflict

Set-up: Drama studio or cleared classroom. Whiteboard needed.

Teacher instructions: As a class, make a list of obstacles relating to migration, which might cause some kind of conflict for the migrant. Explain that obstacles and conflict are an important part of drama, because watching characters struggle to get what they want is how they learn and change. The best obstacles are often another character. Write their examples on the whiteboard. The list might include:

  • Assembling what they need for a long journey.
  • Applying for a visa.
  • Booking a boat ticket.
  • Saying goodbye to someone they love.
  • Finding suitable food.
  • Running out of money.
  • Preparing for an interview at the border.
  • Looking for work.
  • Finding somewhere to stay.
  • Meeting the locals.
  • Communicating with home.

In threes or fours, choose one obstacle and rehearse a short improvisation in which A and B are migrants engaged in this activity. C and/or D stands in their way and could either help them or block them depending on how the scene goes. The dialogue is about A and B trying to persuade C and/or D to give them what they want. Give the group five minutes’ rehearsal time, then watch a few.

After each scene, ask the audience:

  • What clues are in the scene about what the nature of the relationship is between the migrant characters?
  • What tactics do they use to try to get what they want?
  • How are they changed by the experience of dealing with this obstacle?
  • What might they try next?

Migration Plays is a Methuen Drama title and was published in August. Purchase your copy or request an inspection copy for your school here.

Ideas for Writing Original Material for Performance

Devising TheatreFor us, the theme or subject of the theatre we are devising always comes from an idea or question we have a direct relationship to or interest in. As a result the process of  material often requires us to draw from our own lives and experience and discuss our own opinions and personal points of view. In this way we also call it autobiographical. Devising autobiographical theatre in a collaborative way has led us to develop a number of different approaches to making original material. These are:

  • Writing Text
  • Movement and Choreography
  • Performance Images
  • Action
  • Music

When we are creating a new show we find that working in these different ways can help us to better understand our inquiry question from a variety of angles as well as allowing us to build a dynamic and diverse bank of performance material from which to choose. We also find that having a series of distinct ways to approach making material means that members of the group are able to work to their own strengths and area of interest. This allows each performer to utilize their individual learning style and find a form of creative expression that allows them a level of autonomy and ownership and the freedom to best communicate themselves and their point of view. In the past we have enjoyed watching young performers develop in new and unexpected directions as they experiment with different ways to create meaning and present themselves on stage.

Here are two new ways to use with your students when writing text for performance

Questions

Questions are our most favourite way to write text for performance. We love the act of asking questions because it feels so integral to who we are as human beings and our process of trying to understand the world around us. As theatre makers we are definitely more interested in questions than answers. Questions are possibilities. They open up our view of things and ask us to re-examine the way things are and the way they might be. Questions are action and dialogue and grappling with the complexity of things. It is actually impossible to find a show that we have made which does not contain at least one set of questions. They are knitted into the fabric of everything we do and everything we care about.

There are also multiple creative options as to how to place questions in a performance. You can ask questions to another performer, to one audience member or the whole audience in general or to yourself rhetorically. You can look for answers or leave the questions open as a text in themselves. The choices are endless.

Ideas for generating text from questions

  • Write a set of questions you have for someone in charge
  • Write a set of questions you have never asked
  • Write a set of questions you don’t know the answers to
  • Write a set of questions about big ideas
  • Write a set of questions about a subject you know very well
  • Write a set of questions you have about love
  • Write a set of questions for a friend
  • Write a set of questions for your family about you
  • Write a quiz on a specialist subject
  • Write a test for your teacher
  • Write a set of questions that do not have answers to

Letters

Letters can be an effective way to focus your ideas and explore your starting point from a particular perspective or point of view.  Letters also provide a creative way to bring something of the outside world into the performance. They can allow you to touch on the wider socio-political context of things or a lens with which to view a memory of a different time and place.

Letters can be found or sourced and brought into the rehearsal room; like a letter from a historical figure or a childhood pen-friend. They can also be written as part of the making process to allow you to explore the central inquiry form a different angle.

Ideas for generating text from letters

  • Write a letter to yourself when you were 5
  • Write a letter to yourself when you are older
  • Bring in a letter you received in the last month (bills/junk mail included)
  • Bring in a letter you have always kept
  • Write a letter you will never send
  • Write a letter to a celebrity
  • Write a letter to a stranger
  • Write a love letter
  • Write a chain letter
  • Write a letter to someone who can change things
  • Write a letter you wish you’d received

This was an extract taken from A Beginner’s Guide to Devising Theatre by Jess Thorpe and Tashi Gore. You can order your copy here.