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 to the actors and rehearsals..
We had three sessions a week to rehearse. Monday and Friday from 1:30pm after lunch was cleared away until 2:45pm. Wednesday we had until 3:15pm. Or so I thought…
The first problem was because it is a multi- use hall we would have to put the stage up and take it down every rehearsal so the plan was just to rehearse in the approximate floor space to avoid losing time.
The first week went fine, the auditions were on Monday 1st June then on the Wednesday the children were given their parts. We spent the Wednesday and Friday in a circle reading through the script and deciding on the pronunciation of Titania (we went with a long first ‘a’) and Helena (the second ‘e’ was e not ‘ee’) I’m not sure it matters too much, but I wanted consistency. I also added a few more lines for Theseus, Hippolyta and the mechanicals from the 60 minute edit, especially in Unit 5. That left us five weeks for rehearsals, no problem (famous last words… )
On the second Monday I found out that the peripatetic music teacher had arrived to teach the two Year 6 classes every Monday and she needed the hall. To avoid disrupting the other two groups I took the actors in two halves into a classroom, to read through the script. Wednesday that week we blocked the entries, exits and basic positions on the stage. We also explored ideas in terms of delivery, e.g. the idea that if you are talking to a person on stage you don’t actually need to face them. On Friday we had a run through with scripts so the cast could see how it all fitted together.
Week 3 - I was informed mid-week that I was losing a rehearsal on the Wednesday for a Year 6 puberty talk, oh the joys of primary schools... We then had to get a little creative with the Year 6 music lessons so the actors with speaking parts had music until 2pm supervised by me and then we had a 45 minute rehearsal. The music teacher kindly agreed to vacate the hall and teach elsewhere.
In these later rehearsals the children with smaller parts put down their scripts, but the Lovers, Titania, Oberon, Puck and Peter Quince kept theirs as they had a lot to learn. The minor parts all knew their lines anyway which was impressive.
Week 4 - went as planned although some of the main parts were struggling with some of their lines. At this point Demetrius asked to be replaced so I swapped him with a courtier who I hoped could learn the lines. The real sticking points were Oberon’s “Wild thyme speech” (Unit 10), the Lovers' argument (Unit 23), Oberon and Puck’s last speeches (Unit 32) and Peter Quince’s long speech (Unit 31). To overcome the problem some of the pupils had with learning lines, I gave them the opportunity to practice with me at lunchtimes. I also talked to them about how they could go about practicing at home such as learning lines just before they went to sleep and reciting them to family members, as even if the parent was busy they could still listen. I also suggested reciting them to younger siblings as a non critical audience. Perseverance and practice were the watch words.