|Posted on November 25, 2015 at 6:40 AM|
Do you remember learning about Shakespeare at school? I do, but for all the wrong reasons. Learning about Shakespeare at my school was about as scintillating as watching supermarket seasonal adverts being broadcast for the thousandth time. This was primarily because I didn’t understand the language Shakespeare used and I couldn’t visualise how the Bard’s fancy verse could possibly come to life on the stage.
I’m sure things are different today and I know that teaching styles have changed to be more interactive and inclusive of the different ways students learn. However, most thirteen years olds will still tell you that Shakespeare is ‘hard’ and ‘difficult to understand’ and most teachers will tell you that it is one of the trickier parts of the syllabus to encourage students to engage with.
This is why the company Shakespeare’s Soldiers was born. Actors from the CVP go into schools and run Shakespeare workshops with the aim of making Shakespeare more accessible and, hopefully, more exciting. We liaise with schools and develop tailored workshops to meet the needs of specific year groups and classes. These workshops generally involve a quick plot overview of the particular play being studied, followed by a performance of scenes by the actor’s before the students are invited to perform the scenes themselves.
Last week we were invited into the fantastic City Academy London to deliver eight workshops based on Macbeth. We were warmly welcomed by the teachers and students and we were given a wonderful studio space to work in. And, importantly, there was good coffee. Before we even started teaching we wanted to come back.
It was clear after our first day that the students at this school already had a sound understanding of the plot, which meant we could keep the synopsis brief and free up more time to concentrate on bringing the play to life through performance.
To lead into our performance we asked the students to choose their standout moments from Macbeth. Amusingly and without fail, the moment each class picked first was the final battle scene where Macduff chops off Macbeth’s head and puts it on a spike. I’d like to say that this was because it’s a fitting denouement to the play in terms of justice being served; however I think it had more to do with the visual image of a dismembered head! Other moments chosen were when Lady Macbeth sees blood on her hands, when Macbeth sees the floating dagger before killing Duncan, the witches’ prophesising and when Macbeth sees Banquo’s ghost. Interestingly, what these all have in common is a hint of the supernatural and they are crucial to our understanding of the characters’ states of mind.
This led nicely in to our performance of the Banquo’s Ghost scene and we asked the students to help us by getting into character and acting as guests at the King’s banquet. This interactive element worked well and allowed the students to delve into the motivations of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth whilst getting a good idea of what it might have felt like to be a guest at that rather strange feast.
After we had performed, the students split into four groups and practised their own versions of the Banquo’s Ghost scene (albeit a shorter one, we sadly only had an hour to cram all of this in). We helped the groups with their recitals, coaching them in performance techniques and tips for staying in character. All of the groups then performed for each other which was fantastic to watch. It’s amazing what the students were able to produce in such a short space of time and it was lovely to see everyone contributing regardless of whether or not they considered themselves an ‘actor’.
Judging from the smiles and the laughter we think that everyone had a good time; I know we certainly did. There is nothing better than watching the students engage with a play and increase their awareness of the characters and themes whilst enjoying themselves at the same time.
For more information about Shakespeare's Soldiers please visit http://www.shakespearessoldiers.co.uk/