Getting Practical

Learning Lines #15

To mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, we invited every UK school to join RSC Dream Team 2016 and to take part in a nationwide celebration of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. As part of this celebration we created a 60 and a 30 minute edit of the play for schools to perform.

Andy Smith, a teacher at Langland Community School, very kindly agreed to trial the 30 minute edit for us and this is a blog of his school's journey.


So dear reader, the bit you are probably most interested in, how we actually put on the play..

For the three rehearsal afternoons the children were in three groups: actors, technical and choir. We had to do this to include all of our 80+ pupils and all were occupied for all rehearsal sessions.

The choirs were mostly Year 5’s as they were not acting this time around and they practiced with a teacher and a Learning Support Assistant. They learnt the songs from the play we had bought. They practiced from a CD which had a vocal on it but when I heard them during a rehearsal we moved from the vocal CD to the instrumental version as they sounded better than the recorded choir!

The technical group, which was 50% Year 5’s and Year 6’s, worked with two teachers and the jobs they did included: designing all the posters around the school, designing and making/painting the scenery, making/collecting the props, decorating the fairy wings, designing/printing/selling the tickets, and designing/printing the programmes. We also had two children operating the CD player in rehearsals and doing the sound effects etc during the performances. Finally the Year 6 pupils operated the front of house and managed the accounts for ticket sales.

After a consultation process with my colleagues we decided to perform a modern dress version to keep down costs and save any extra work because the pupils could provide most of their costumes. I wanted a contrast between the various groups of characters. The courtiers, Theseus, Egeus and Hippolyta were formally dressed, most used the clothes they had worn for their prom. The Lovers were dressed as if they were meeting a boy/girl friend at the cinema so less formal. The mechanicals were in jeans, T-shirts and high visibility jackets. For the fairies, Puck, Oberon and Titania, we provided the costumes to give an ‘other-worldly’ feel. The fairy costumes proved to be the bane of my life as promises made to make them were not kept until the very last minute. Not great for stress levels! The total cost of the production was under £200 and that included £65 for building a scenery frame which we can store and use for future productions. Most of the expenses were the fairies’ wings and the material (we mainly used sheets) for their costumes.

For the staging we have a Q-build system so we had a split stage with the larger stage becoming the woods with scenery fixed to the scenery frame. The Q-build system is a series of stage blocks that have an aluminium base with a block of wood on top. They are 1 metre square and the taller ones are 80cm tall and the lower ones 40cm. They can be arranged in any combination that is desired and are held together with brackets. We had one large stage with a variety of levels and then a smaller stage. We then had a floor space between the 2 stages for the mechanicals. The smaller stage was the palace with the scenery fixed to the PE wall bars. We also had ‘grass effect’ paper around the edges of the stage. We had one block higher for Titania to sleep on so she didn’t get trodden on!

The props are very straightforward so not something to worry about. A flower for Puck and Oberon, a scroll for Peter Quince and the props as listed in the script for the mechanicals play. The donkey and lion heads as well as the high visibility jackets we scrounged from colleagues. It’s funny who has a donkey and lion’s head hanging about.. 

All of this construction, singing practice and marketing work was going on whilst the actors were rehearsing with me. 

Andy Smith

Andy Smith

Andy Smith, from Langland Primary School in Milton Keynes, has been a classroom teacher for 30 years mainly in schools in areas of high deprivation. He is blogging about his school’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream as part of RSC Dream Team 2016.

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