Would I do it again? Yes I would

Learning Lines #21

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.


A few thoughts to pull it all together.

Were the children brilliant? Yes, that says it all.

Would I do it again? Yes in a shot I am already thinking about next year.  I feel it has to be a Shakespeare play again. The pupils got so much out of this one and our long term topic plan is for a Shakespeare play so the two will dovetail. The issue is that next year’s Year 6 is 80% female so a rewrite may be in order. I may be reversing the gender of a whole play!!

I think there are a few bits of advice before you take this project on:

  • You have got to want to do it and be 100% behind it 
  • The children have to be on board; you need to sell it to them.
  • The big one is you have to tell them the story, not read it; they have to know the plot. The actors have to have the actions explained in a language they understand. They “don’t get Shakespeare” immediately. For example: for the Lovers you have to explain that one boy has run off with a girl and that Hermia is jealous and Helena thinks they are making fun of her. The Director’s notes and the edited script helped with this but to be honest as a teacher you have to know the play and just tell it to the children as a story. A teaching technique rather than a theatrical one.
  • You have to have high expectations and convey those to the pupils. If you tell them they can do it, often enough they will rise to them.
  • You need to have one person in overall charge with a clear vision and making the major decisions, it is not a time for a collegiate or committee approach.
  • Once you delegate a task you have to trust people to carry it out, you can’t do everything.
  • Your colleagues must be supportive, I can’t speak highly enough of the way the Year 5/6 team and site manager supported me.
  • You need to be prepared for sleepless nights; I didn’t have an uninterrupted night for the last 4 weeks. I was worrying about the Page’s costume on the final Sunday!
  • The children have to be prepared to work hard. Learning the lines takes a lot of effort as they are all in Shakespearean English, which is what makes it special.
  • You need to cast the four lovers, Oberon and Puck carefully and to a lesser extent Bottom and Titania as they have a lot to learn and have to carry the play, particularly Oberon. 
  • You have to be prepared to be tough with the cast they must learn their lines. You also have to be prepared to give up a lot of your time to support the pupils and help them. 
  • Make sure you record it; I forgot to and regret it.

Reasons for doing this project: there are fewer but they are more important:

  • It is great fun
  • It is a challenge for you and the pupils
  • They love doing it
  • They exceed their own expectations
  • They get a great sense of achievement
  • I watched their confidence and self-esteem grow especially in the last two weeks
  • They learnt when they had done well and they became more self-critical and grow from this.
  • They learn empathy for their character and each other
  • They learn to trust each other
  • The pupils reactions and development - for example, a looked-after child singing a solo in the choir and smiling at her foster mum; a year ago that little girl had a lot of problems. 

It is hard work for the adult in charge. I didn't sleep properly for at least a month and would wake up at 3am and write copious notes. But was it worth it? Yes it was. To take this, what can only be described as ragtaggle band, and turn them into a professional standard cast was wonderful. For children, some of whom couldn’t speak English two years ago to be standing on a “proper” stage reciting Shakespeare was marvellous, a truly life enhancing experience.

We are a school in a deprived area with low academic achievement and a large number of Special Educational Needs and English as an Additional Language pupils. The children have low expectations; low self-esteem and a number of them need to experience success. If we can do it any school can. I’ll leave the last words to Wiki, who played Hermia:

I had so many lines, I was actually quite worried if I could learn all of these lines in a few weeks. This was challenging!!! But I was gonna try my best anyway. At the end of the parents' play I was very proud and so were my parents. I really liked the experience of being on stage. And so did my friends.” 
(Wiki has been in England less than 2 years)

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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