Someone asked me last week what I was doing loading armfuls of costume into the car. “It’s for a week’s Shakespeare workshop for children”, I answered. “Shakespeare…… for kids? I bet they don’t think much of that!” Sadly many people have similar negative reactions, left over I suspect from unimaginative teaching of Shakespeare at school.The children who worked with us for a week won’t ever feel like this. When they look back at what was for many of them their first experience of performing Shakespeare, (and also the first time for some of them performing in front of an audience), they will remember a fantastic sun-soaked week full of drama, action, fun and laughter, culminating in a performance in the beautiful floodlit garden of The Old Rectory. They all went home after a great week with a real sense of achievement, the achievement of having delivered – in five days – a very polished performance of Twelfth Night to family and friends.
Halfway through the workshop week Victoria and I were asked if we were confident they would really know all those lines by the end of the week. “Of course!” we answered, “They know it’s expected of them”. “But how can you be sure?” Of course we could not be 100% sure, but the time and effort that went into the structure and planning of the week meant that barring unexpected events we were pretty confident.
The planning starts with the script. Pippa had the task of finalising the text during the pre-performance week. We always have to wait until the last minute, as we never know our final cast number until a few days before we start. Pippa’s one hour version of Twelfth Night included all the main elements of the plot in the bards’ original language (no modernising here!) and provided the requisite number of parts of appropriate length for all participants.
Victoria at the same time has to oversee logistics, catering, hospitality and plan for the invasion of The Old Rectory by the young Shakespearians. Break times and meal times have to be well planned as this part of the week is a great opportunity to socialise and to meet new friends – which we believe is as important as the practical drama, movement and voice work.
The key element of a successful week is attention to detail. We started with Pippa outlining the plot (only one student already knew the story), explaining to the cast that they were going to spend the week telling a tale of mistaken identities, comedic buffoonery and romance, all spoken in Shakespearean tongue. Pippa’s casting plan gave every student a chance to read for a variety of parts. By the end of the first lunchtime the show was cast. Monday afternoon gave us a chance to try out the various areas in which we would stage the action with a run (stagger) through in the garden of the Old Rectory.
On Tuesday with the help of (another) Victoria, our assistant stage manager, we split into groups and had a lively day of sectional rehearsals followed by a run through, giving us an opportunity to see how the show was taking shape. (Well!)
On Wednesday we had a great day with visiting humourist, writer and comedy expert Lee Cornes. Lee worked with the group developing characterisation, movement and comedic timing.
On Thursday for our first dress rehearsal we were joined by Jane Benians who provided invaluable assistance in all areas especially costume and dance. The show was very nearly ready.
By Friday afternoon it was all systems go. A very lively final dress rehearsal and time for some fun and a barbeque supper before the evening performance.
As the cast took their bows, an enthusiastic member of our audience said what a great theatrical experience for the students, something they will remember for many years. Yes it was, but we know it was more that. Our aim is to provide a great ‘life experience’. Prep4 is not a drama school and our workshop week is designed to give the participants much more than just drama training. Our aim for the week is that as well as developing new drama and communication skills, we are building confidence, developing social and problem solving skills, and and creating a sense of self worth alongside respect and consideration for others. Quite an outcome for a week at the Old Rectory.