Zip, Zap, Slap and the Arts of the Stealth Ninja

Learning Lines #3

An old man holding the hands of a woman in a green tartan dress
Lizzie Hopley in The Roaring Girl

Confession, before signing up as a workshop practitioner with the RSC, I'd always been wary of drama workshops. Taking them, doing them - the fear of getting it wrong, exposing yourself to your peers, being bored.

The prospect of holding a room full of new names, the rules of Zip Zap Boing and the structure of a 2 hour Shakespeare-based learning experience brought me out in a rash. Then I got started.

In a Shakespeare workshop, your brain has no space to minute-count. It's not about the names it's all about the ages. There are all sorts of categories, subcategories, boys and girls, mixed groups and groups that have English as an additional language.

There are Key Stages:

1) Year 3s – small nuclear-bright. 
2) 7 year olds who love you and do everything you say with great enthusiasm and could fuel a theatre. 
3) Year 9s – taller balls of pre-forming hormonal 13 year-olds with the energy of smaller people but a  boredom threshold lower than a sweaty sock. 
4) Year 11s – tired 15 and 16 year olds exhausted by the onslaught of the hormonal war raging in their  bodies - mostly to be found sucked into the walls like drying plaster.

And I realise. This is animal management. On an evolutionary scale.

My task is to learn Alpha and Beta behaviour, to manage hormones and pheromones, to tend to the shy, dominated ones so they don't perish. Teaching them how to convincingly slap each other on stage – without actually doing any damage – has universal appeal.

It's ok. It's Shakespearean. He wrote slaps into Taming of the Shrew loads. A Health and Safety warning klaxons faintly in my brain but I have 24 pairs of Kohl-rimmed eyes on me and utter silence in the room.

I call on my inner Terry King. I know how to teach a stage slap safely and reiterating the dangers only deepens the silence. Moments later they are performing the Katarina-Bianca sister torture scene in groups of 4 with enough commitment to the language, the verse, characters and stakes to rock any RSC stage.

Shakespeare wins. So do they.

Later that day I fess-up to Miles, Head of Professional Development. He shrugs and says 'whatever works for you.' He, like so many other Educational gurus is a Master of Stealth Teaching. The art of making young people do things without feeling taught. It gets results. And it's hard. I'm a rookie and I've done it once. I can't rely on slapping for every group, I face a summer of learning. I aim to become a Stealth Ninja.


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