Starting the journey

Learning Lines #13

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.


In our planning meeting it was decided that the best way to start the ball rolling with the play would be to talk to all the children at the same time. On 20th May we got all the Year 5/6 pupils together in the hall to outline the basic ideas.  I knew this was crucial to the success of the project; the children had to be on board. When I started I could see the sceptical looks on their faces so I had to employ all my skills as a storyteller to sell it. Fortunately I had taught all the Year 5’s and 50% of the Year 6’s, they trusted me and they knew if I said they could do it - they could.

It had previously been decided that all the acting roles would be offered to Year 6 because they had more available time as the SATs were over and Year 5 could have their chance next year. Also to make sure we could include more pupils there would be a choir. The children were given 4 large sheets of paper and had the choice of choosing: a speaking part, a non-speaking part, being a member of the choir or the technical crew. Each role was explained in detail and the children signed up on the appropriate sheet. This would leave the pupils in 3 groups: The actors, the choir and the technical group each of which would be working with a member of the teaching staff.

I realised there were some pupils missing on a trip to France, I should have known this was to be the start of an ongoing theme..

At the start of half term I received two draft scripts of A Midsummer Night’s Dream from Miles at RSC Education , a half hour and a one hour version. My initial thought was the hour version but decided due to the language that the half hour version would be more feasible and we could always add bits from the longer script later.

Both the hour and the half hour scripts were interesting and both had the key parts of the play. As they are both in Shakespearean English we decided that the one hour version would be too detailed for our pupils to learn but I think would be brilliant to challenge a secondary school group. The half hour version is, in my opinion, ideal for a primary school especially as by the time you have added direction, had pupils going on and off, sound effects, music etc it comes in at nearer 45 minutes. Longer than an hour our parents would get restless as would the pupils off-stage, the half an hour version hits them hard and leaves them wanting more. I also thought it better to do a shorter one well rather than stress about perfecting the longer one.

The director’s notes were invaluable. I must admit I tried to use them in rehearsals but ended up with too much paper so I used them before rehearsals to point me in the right direction and I added notes from them to my script. My script ended up more pencil than script by the end, and fell apart. My advice here is to use a photocopied script for rehearsals and keep a pristine one for reference. I also used the director’s notes to prompt the children by devising questions from them such as:  ‘how was Hermia feeling here’ etc.

I spent the half term break designing the stage, planning scenery, props, coming up with ideas for the costumes and by the time I returned I had a clear overall vision of what I wanted to achieve. I also divided the staff supporting me between the 3 groups and compiled the group lists as far as I could. I knew who wanted to act, I just hadn’t allocated the roles. These processes are absolutely essential; you can’t start a journey without knowing where you are going! 

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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