Learning Lines

Training at the RSC

February 27, 2014

When offered the opportunity to work with the Community and Education departments at both the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Belgrade Theatre what aspiring education practitioner would say no?

And what a six months it has been so far. I've had many late nights and many dashes for trains but most importantly many encounters with inspirational practitioners, actors, directors and young people.

The excitement with which these two theatres are tackling Shakespeare with young people is brilliant; none more so than Michael Fentiman and his cast of The Taming of the Shrew, part of the RSC's First Encounter series.

Having grown up on a remote Scottish Island, theatre was very much not a part of everyday life and my memories of it range from marvellous to down-right bizarre. If the Royal Shakespeare Company had come to my school it would have been a dream come true, a magical memory.

That is what I, and the actors, directors and behind the scene team on The Taming of the Shrew hope to give young people over the next few weeks as the Shrew tours venues in the UK .

My role in the rehearsal room
My role in the rehearsal room was to assist in the creation of a resource pack for the production and it also provided me with the invaluable opportunity to gain an insight into the rehearsal room processes which form the basis of the work of the RSC Education department.

As I walked into the rehearsal room for the first time I was struck by the feeling of one big family; and this was only four days in! The cast were energetic, lively and really enthusiastic about taking this work into schools. When lunchtime came however there was a bizarre silence as we ate our food.

'Is it always this quiet or is this the calm before the storm?' I whispered to an actor.

'That's about right,' he replied. And how right he was.

Over the next four weeks I watched as the actors worked with Michael and Rebecca (the Assistant Director)  to create a piece of theatre which is funny yet profound, simple without being patronising and has many touching and thoughtful moments.

The pace of work was surprising and this was not superficial work: there were in-depth discussions about character motivations and how certain moments would translate to the young audience it was intended for.

What I've learnt from the experience
While watching this skilled team at work I have learnt a great deal about the way we should be communicating Shakespeare to young people.

The company placed a lot of emphasis on telling the story and on not patronising the young people. In taking any show into schools we have to trust that the audience will understand what we are doing and not get bogged down in individual words.

At the end of the day it's just as likely that there will be a Shakespeare novice in a main house audience, as it is in the audience of a show specifically tailored for young people.

It was inspiring to be in a room with other like-minded people who really believe in taking high quality work to schools, in particular schools who might not usually be able to take their students to the theatre.

Photo: actor Katy Stephens in rehearsals.

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Teaching Shakespeare