Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Teaching on a Theatresaurus Course

When starting my journey last year teaching on Theatresaurus's speech and drama course, I was, it had to be said, a little sceptical. Having taught many workshops and held many auditions I had the preconception this sort of training churned out an actor with no truth to their work and no chance to be an individual.

How wrong I was, Ros' summer courses allow for fun, creativity and learning and see the young people take an examination at the end. They can choose whether to devise or use a script, but either way they have a solid drama training to reach that point and a lot of laughs. 

The use of the exam system gives them an end goal to work to in the ten days and means that we can always bring their practise round to the examination. 

It made me realise that in taking these exams the young people are able to work on all the skills I would apply to, for example, a National Youth Theatre training. They can play to their strength as devisers, or specialiser in naturalism, Shakespeare, or contemporary. They learn team building skills, how to have ideas, how to let ideas go, and how it will all come together in the end! 

They have fun, gain great skills, and make new friends!

I highly recommend! 

Katy Weir 

Monday, 22 July 2013

Shakespeare for everyone?

Shakespeare for students as young as five is the new mantra for Gove and his government.  What a brilliant idea – Shakespeare is accessible and fascinating.  His stories are extraordinary and relevant today.  However, many teachers find him scary.  They are not equipped to teach Shakespeare to youngsters – his language can be intimidating, the subjects he writes about can be pretty hard to explain ‘ what does ripped from his mother’s womb mean’ asked a 7 year old recently.   So do we go into a discussion about natural birth?  And what happens when a child pipes up ‘ so was I not born or woman then because my mum had a c-section?

How do we tell the story of Macbeth to 9 year old children? Do we read a prĂ©cis in plain English?  Do we teach them a speech without helping the children to understand the meaning? Do they learn by rote like times tables?  What is important about Shakespeare to a 5 year old, 9 year old, or GCSE student?

Can all children get the opportunity to perform a play on a professional stage? – something the Shakespeare School’s Festival (SSF) is striving for?  Performing one of the SSF’s cut down versions of Shakespeare’s plays is a fabulous introduction to Shakespeare.

Another way is to encourage companies like mine - Theatresaurus to go into schools and run workshops with young people.  To give teachers CPD, to give them resources to continue the work after we leave.  The cost is negligible and we can reach  about 150 students in one day.

Recent feedback from John Bow school in Blackheath was glowing –

‘All of it was excellent; I think the fact that every child was included and had a part to play made it very exciting. They focused and understood the story because of this’


‘I was really pleased; it was professional, fun, engaging and a lovely interactive way to introduce children to Shakespeare.

So please, if we are to introduce students to Shakespeare let it be in a fun and exciting way – performing it with the Shakespeare School’s festival or having workshops by companies such as Theatresaurus.  Make it fun and exciting – and the children will develop a life time love of Shakespeare.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Easter Shakespeare - London

When venturing into a new environment to lead a project I am always filled with a sense of anticipation, what's the space going to be like, what are the young people going to be like, have I prepared enough material, will they find it too hard, will they find it too easy?

As always, this Easter I was overwhelmed by the focus,talent  and dedication of the young people I am faced with.

Theatresaurus are a brilliant organisation who put the needs of the group first, rather than simply churning out the same material time after time try. Their Easter Courses are, in my opinion, fantastic as they offer a four day Shakespeare course in which the student play lots of games and exercises that help with confidence building, language, physicality, focus, and energy to name a few. We also rehearse a short version of one of Shakespeare’s plays. This year I chose to direct A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with a show of work taking place on the Friday at 3pm. 

Putting on a Shakespeare play that makes sense in 4 days is a daunting thought with professional actors. Add into the mix a group of 7-11 year olds it is enough to make you slightly panic. But here goes;

Day 1: I played lots of games, safe in the knowledge that I never play a game without a reason they looked at building confidence, focus, and energy. The group loved these exercise and I knew I would come back to them during the week when people got tired, bored, needed an energy lift. I then spent the afternoon with Freya and Ros getting to grips with the story. At its essence Theatresaurus teaches Shakespeare on its feet from start to finish, the way it was intended. So, for example, we told the story up on our feet with different people entering the middle of the circle to make different characters. This definitely made the young people soak in the story rather than sitting down and trying to explain it. 

Day 2: After a warm up, we read through the play giving out parts and doing some cuts as with only three days to rehearse the play we had to replace some text with narration. The group were outstanding, they worked like professionals following the scripts, taking parts (even when it may not have been the part that they wanted, and annotating the script. We then lets ourselves have a play. After the break we began, making sure we understood what we were saying, why and how we felt. 

The group then went home to learn lines and did an awesome job. 

Day 3: I always like to get a bit of Arts and Crafts in there, we made some poster to decorate the set and invitations to take home. We then started on the hard-stuff, the group worked tirelessly to make sure we had got through the whole play by the end of the day.   The group worked really hard when going through the piece, helping each other out with what their characters were like. Along the way we did lots of exercises looking at character etc that really illuminated their work. As the days past the group really grew, they realised they wanted to produce something they were proud of and if some drifted they started to pull each other together. A true sign of a great ensemble. 

Day 4: Performance Day, the group had gone away and really nailed their lines. As a professional I was so impressed, I think I would have been daunted by this as an actor. We spent the morning having a couple of run through with Ros able to bring a new voice to the room and they got better everytime. The performance, wow, all of a sudden they came to life and really embraced having an audience.
The feedback from both students, teachers, and staff was so great they loved and to hear they had grown in confidence and found a love of Shakespeare I feel our job was done.

Make sure you book for their next courses as I am in no doubt Ros is going to take Theatresaurus from strength to strength and I for one love working with the company!

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Shakespeare Reading Group

Our Shakespeare reading group started this week.  The invite went out to anyone and everyone wanting to read or listen to Shakespeare's plays.  I thought we should start at the beginning with what is thought to be his earliest play,
Two Gentlemen of Verona.  It is not a play I knew very well, in fact the only time I have seen it is when my dear friend Dominic Arnold played one of the Gents in a West End Production in the 80s.

I was spurred on by some research that recently came out from scientists at Liverpool University.
They have discovered that 'Reading Shakespeare has a beneficial effect on the mind, providing a rocket-boost to morale by catching the reader's attention and triggering moments of self-reflection'  They went on to say 'The research shows the power of literature to shift mental pathways, to create new thoughts, shapes and connections in the young and the staid alike.'

So attending my Reading Group were people aged from 18 - 75+.  I was stunned at how well people read, and how supportive we were when readers lost their way or stumbled over words.  It is amazing how enjoyable and stimulating reading aloud can be.

We are going to organise a theatre trip, and next month we will have wine to help us along with the The Taming of the Shrew which some say is his second play although every place I look offers a different suggestion!

Friday, 24 August 2012

Summer speech and drama course

While we were awaiting the results of the Summer speech and drama course I reflected on the work we did, the students we worked with and their achievements .

We worked with students as young at 6 and spent  ten days encouraging them, taking them to the woods and playing Grandmother's footsteps, hiding behind trees, having fun.  We got them to perform their pieces on the race track, infront of a beautiful lake, on a bridge.  So many were inspired by the Olympics, telling stories that reflected the origins of the games in Greece.  They researched, bought in books, challenged themselves and each other and ultimately created some stunning pieces of theatre.

Everytime I teach theses courses, I am stunned by how creative our young people can be.  The joy they find in Shakespeare, in rehearsing, discovering and performing is beautiful.

Many of our students received their A level results on the same day as they took their exams - an amazing and exciting day full of tears, tensions and achievements. (they all got in to their chosen Uni)

Our results came out this week and they were wonderful,  everyone gained merit or above with a few getting almost 100%. Whatever marks they got, I know the ultimate gift has been new friendships forged, a boost in confidence and the gift of laughter.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Speech and Drama exams

Last Thursday my students took their Speech and Drama exams.  Most of them have been working with me towards a grade for the last year.

We had a real mixture as ever this year.  Some are very keen drama students and others have no interest in drama at school but continue to take their grades with me year after year.  It is wonderful to see this latter group grow in confidence and ability.  

The different scripts we used this year were
Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth
Romeo and Juliet
A Midsummer Night's dream
Spur of the Moment by Anya Reiss
ALice by Laura Wade
Tartuffe by Moliere
My Very Own Story by Alan Ayckbourn
Rukus in the Garden by David Farr
Two Weeks with the Queen by Mary Morris

One group devised and scripted two pieces of theatre - they had to give the examiner the script and perform it in a polished and confident way

We also had 3 students taking Communication Skills - in these grades they had to persuade the examiner to do something (support a charity, go on a trip etc) They have to listen to an article and summarise it back to the examiner.They also have to do a presentation on something of interest to them.   As they go up the grades they have to present a CV and involves interview techniques.  What an amazing way to develop life skills, and in this time when jobs are not as easy to get - what a fabulous step ahead.

Next year we are going to include some other performance skills - stage fighting and magic are two we have already been asked to work on.

The results this year were: Almost all distinctions or merits, so well done to everyone! 

If you want any more information about any of the above feel free to contact me.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Theatresaurus in the Midlands

Shakespeare?  What is there to like really?  Five years of having his plays rammed down my throat in English lessons certainly didn’t inspire me, listening to teenage girls reading disinterestedly from a book we didn’t really understand, our English teacher clearly frustrated by our distinct lack of interest.

That was almost 30 years ago and I suspect the experience of many school pupils is still very similar as Shakespeare is still studied as part of the English Literature GCSE.   Shakespeare doesn’t really come to life until you see it performed, or even better, you perform it yourself.

Two years ago I was scratching around for activities to fill the long summer holidays.  An old friend, Ros, suggested my then 13 year old daughter join her Theatresaurus drama course during the summer holidays, whilst I took a few days to explore the City of Wells in Somerset where she and her family now live.  The course included a trip to Stratford-on-Avon to see A Comedy Of Errors and every child on the course was taken along, whether they were 6 or 16 years of age.  It was a good production, and as I watched these children drink it in, finally I started to get it.  The words made more sense when they were accompanied by actions, with expression in the voice.

Steph absolutely loved the course and, like the rest of the group, came away with a distinction in the Trinity Guildhall exam.  Ros and her team’s methods of teaching had helped the children not only to maximise their skills, but to bond as a group, work together co-operatively, produce an excellent piece of work and, through this, become friends.  Having enjoyed the course so much, she has been back again and again to learn more about drama.  I doubt she’ll ever tread the boards professionally, but her confidence and understanding have improved tremendously.

Of course, even when you are visiting a friend, it’s a bit of a trek to Somerset for a holiday activity, so the idea of bringing Theatresaurus courses to the East Midlands was eventually born.  I hope that young people in Nottingham and Derby will take the opportunity to learn about Shakespeare in an interactive way that brings the text alive and helps them to understand it so they embrace this significant part of their education when it arrives.

Theatresaurus Shakespeare Summer Workshop
Friesland School Performing Arts Centre
Monday 30 July to Friday 3 August, 9.00am to 2.30pm