Learning Lines

Feedback from teachers and students

December 5, 2013

Last month Richard II was seen by over 34,000 students who tuned into the first of a series of broadcasts direct into schools as part of our Young Shakespeare Nation initiative.

Almost half of the pupils who took part had never seen a performance by the RSC before and the broadcast was followed by a live Q&A with director Greg Doran and David Tennant who plays the title role.

We thought you'd like to hear what some of the teachers and students who took part had to say.

First up is Nicola Walmsley, Head of Drama and Performing Arts at Uxbridge High School. Uxbridge High School is one of over 400 schools across the UK that make up the RSC's Learning Performance Network (LPN) - a long-term partnership programme with schools and regional theatres offering professional development and training in theatre-based approaches to teaching Shakespeare.

Then we've got feedback from two students: Danny, aged 15, and India, 14 are both pupils at St Mary's College in Hull.

Nicola Walmsley
It seems obvious to say that Shakespeare wrote plays. Plays which were meant to be seen, not read and performed in order to truly understand their meaning. Since joining the Learning and Performance Network, this sort of active approach is something which we have embedded into the English and Drama classrooms at Uxbridge High School and is having outstanding outcomes for our young people.

Ensuring accessibility to Shakespeare's canon through Young Shakespeare Nation, allowing them to make their own connection to his works, is something which I truly believe is of the upmost importance. Having our young people see live performances is central to this.

It is for this reason that we immediately signed up to the RSC's Live Screening of Richard II. The opportunity for our young people to have a live performance of a whole Shakespeare text performed in their very own classroom was an exciting prospect.

We did a little bit of work around the text with several of our drama students in years 7-10 (mixed ability in relation to their level of literacy), working in some of the key themes and actively approaching small sections of text. We deliberately steered away from giving them too much of the narrative as this was something we wanted them to enjoy from watching the performance live.

When the day came the students arrived (early!) and took their seats. Every student sat, eyes fixed on the screen as the performance begun. There was a true feeling of anticipation and a few nudges as David Tennant entered the stage but they sat and they watched as the play unfolded.

There were a few whispers which all centred around helping each other understand the action and a few looks in my direction to acknowledge how sections of texts and themes we had worked on previously appeared on stage.

During the second half their reactions as the plot unfolded were better than even I had expected. There were gasps, and I won't say at what moment in case people are yet to see the production, which demonstrated just how engaged in the performance they were and the extent of their understanding.

The most magical part of the day for me, as their teacher, however was when the opportunity presented itself to ask Gregory Doran and David Tennant questions. The room erupted with noise as students immediately engaged in conversations about what they had seen. Hands shot up into the air and I simply could not input them into the website quick enough!

There were questions about Tennant's characterisation, the set, direction of particular moments and the historical relevance. A true testament to their connection to the performance and their understanding of what they had seen.

They were engaged, interested and truly excited. They were connected in a way that simply reading the text in class could not have achieved. Seeing the performance live had enabled them to connect with the play and actually truly enjoy it.

I had been excited about watching Shakespeare's Richard II ever since my English teacher had announced that we were to be watching the performance. In the run up to the performance we had been studying Richard II and looking at the plot and basic storyline.

It was a thrilling opportunity to be watching this performance rather than just reading the text off of a sheet, don't get me wrong I enjoy Shakespeare I could even go to the extent of saying I adore it, but there is something different about having the words spoken to you and to have the visual aid rather than to just have people reading in a monotone voice line after line of misery.

Not only was watching Richard II a good way of getting out of lessons, it was also an eye opener into the world of Shakespeare, to be able to hear the language he wrote down, to see something that has been performed and adapted multiple times and I got to see it all for free!

Overall, the performance was a great success, I never thought that I would get such an opportunity as this, to be able to see two plays by Shakespeare within the space of a year (I had in the previous school year seen King Lear with my school). I have always been intrigued by Shakespeare and this experience didn't disappoint”.

Despite the few technical issues we encountered whilst watching the live stream of the RSC's production of Shakespeare's Richard II, the performance was nonetheless an enriching and intriguing experience for everyone involved. Seeing the characters portrayed onstage with convincing, interesting performances helped me to understand what Shakespeare was actually saying when he wrote Richard II.

Usually, when reading Shakespeare, I feel a little lost as far as understanding the language goes- however, by watching this performance, I felt involved with the play and could more easily follow the storyline. Even though there were still some scenes or language choices I couldn't quite grasp, watching the production was very worthwhile and useful towards my understanding of Shakespeare.

When I couldn't follow the language, I didn't find it extremely difficult to pick it back up again using body language, tone and gesture as clues.

I did, however, have to make sure I was listening fully to ensure I didn't lose track- which I suppose goes for any of Shakespeare's work, as it is often tough to comprehend. I loved the set of the play too, especially the opening scene- it really did feel as if I was looking at a church or cathedral and not just a stage.

I thoroughly enjoyed the performance because it wasn't something I could just sit there and stare at for a few hours- I had to be paying complete attention to keep up with the storyline and enjoyed the challenge. Watching the performance was also a really different way to learn about the play instead of just reading it.

Overall, I feel that I have gained more understanding and an appreciation of Shakespeare's work from this production and I am pleased that I have learnt more about his way of writing.

Join us for the next schools' screening
All in all our first live screening has been a great event. We're currently looking at what we can learn from our first screening and are already planning the next ones. Henry IV Part I will be broadcast to schools in June and Henry IV Part II in July. Watch this space for more information or look at our Education pages on this website.

by Jacqui O'Hanlon  |  No comments yet

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Teaching Shakespeare