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!