Angela and Emerode are both performing in Henry VI: Rebellion: Angela with Bradford Shakespeare Nation and Emerode with RSC Next Generation. Uniquely for the participants of these groups in Henry VI: Rebellion, these two rebels are a teacher and student from the same school in Bradford.
Performing on the stage at the RSC is a first for Emerode and me, and has been an absolute privilege. Having been a Secondary School Teacher of English for the past eight years, I have been thrust into the world of Shakespeare’s plays with their oddities and complexity of language. So, when in 2016, the opportunity arose for our school to be part of the RSC's Associate Schools Programme, I happily volunteered and threw myself into the role. I haven’t looked back since.
Our school's association with the RSC has given students the opportunity to work with the RSC in school and on stage. Guided, educated and led by our inimitable Director Mentor, Julia O’Keeffe, our students have performed in Playmaking Festivals - their first, Julius Caesar in the Swan Theatre and later this year Much Ado About Nothing in Bradford.
Earlier in the year Next Generation Act was recruiting new young people into its programme and so we enthusiastically took a group of students to the auditions. One of our year nine students, Emerode, was successful!
Emerode: I feel amazing! At first it was scary because it's the biggest stage I’ve performed on, but once you get on the stage, it feels incredible! I feel really proud when I hear the claps and cheers and I know my mum is really proud too.
I feel I have become part of an acting family. I have made new friends for life and built my confidence. Now I know I want to become a professional actor and perform around the world.
During the Covid restrictions, I was introduced to the idea of performing myself with the Bradford Shakespeare Nation group. What a diverse bunch of talented, passionate, generous, energetic and lovely people. Covid was not going to stop us and so we met – online – for weekly workshops and rehearsals.
Seeing a bank of people on screen in all forms of residential backdrops performing physical and vocal exercises could have been (actually was) quite comical but for the fact we were experiencing professional coaching from RSC specialists.
The Shakespeare Nation group finally met face-to-face to put our online rehearsals on the floor, culminating in two performances of an edited version of The Comedy of Errors at the Alhambra Studio.
The next project was the workshop to introduce the RSC’s play in which Shakespeare Nation, including our Bradford group and Next Generation Act, would all work alongside the professional company. Henry VI: Rebellion was mammoth from the outset. We sensed a large-scale production from the beginning of the process.
I was in my element – I love the way the RSC practices give permission to just stop and study and contemplate. We talked, we discussed and we exchanged thoughts and ideas about the characters, their emotions and their motivations, the period in time and its political implications.
On stage you have to be a character with a background and through all our workshops, vocal training and rehearsals, the focus was about the character, their life and being a character on a stage full of other crowd characters – the rebels!
I played The Wife in the Simcox scene. Nine lines of pure unadulterated fear and euphoria and adrenaline. Meeting the expectant eyes and breath of actors awaiting your line is the most fearful and satisfying feeling in the world.
Our band of 12 from the Bradford group rehearsed lines over and over and we rehearsed moves over and over. There has been laughter and tears but we have all left the stage with renewed purpose, vigour and motivation. It’s been an immeasurable privilege.
Bradford Shakespeare Nation group bid a fond farewell to Henry VI: Rebellion and I have loved every single moment of my experience. Emerode and the Next Generation Act company continue this "amazing" experience until the end of the run.