All eyes gaze on us

Our production date is almost upon us!

On Wednesday, I will be taking seventeen Year 5 students (aged 10 and 11) to a local theatre to perform ‘Romeo and Juliet’ to their parents, teachers and two other primary schools.  This is part of the Shakespeare for Schools Festival, a wonderful organisation that trains teachers to become directors and allows children, even from the most deprived areas of the U.K., to perform a Shakespeare play in a professional theatre.  It is a magical experience for the children and I am really looking forward to seeing the fruits of their labour on Wednesday evening.

After months of discussing the play, learning lines, rehearsing every spare minute (even using my in-school planning time to facilitate run-throughs!), we are almost ready to go.  They know the play–even better, they understand the characters–and they are excited to perform in front of their families.  I can see the bubbling pride in their faces already.

Last year was my first year directing a play as part of the Shakespeare for Schools Festival.  With a different group of children, we put on a production of ‘Macbeth’ which, whilst a steep learning curve for me and a slightly stressful experience, turned out brilliantly.  I’m still not quite sure how they pulled it off so well on the night, but they did.  This year, however, is different.  I have learnt from the mistakes of last year and the children are much more prepared for their final performance.  I feel as though I can sit back and enjoy the performance, which is a wonderful feeling.

I did take the two lead characters out of class for a last-minute pep talk/impromptu rehearsal this afternoon.  I felt they needed a bit of a boost and I wanted to harness the potential that I have seen in them–they have a tendency to rush through their lines a bit and speak quietly, as though embarrassed (natural, for two ten-year-olds playing teenage lovers!) and I wanted to make sure that they were okay and try to give them some tips to bring out the best in their acting.

I am so glad I did.

We wrapped up in our coats and scarves, just the three of us, and went out onto the empty school field to chat, walk and practise–no scripts, no props.  I have found that sometimes taking children out of the usual school environment and giving them a license to be natural and free can increase their courage and allow them to lose some of the insecurities they have about their role or their work.  It certainly worked for these two children.  By the end, they were acting in a way I have never seen them act before–with real emotion–and they were playing off one another, responding to each other’s voices and movements, interacting naturally and with passion.

I asked them afterwards how they felt and the girl playing Juliet said “Wow.  It felt like it was real.”  I could see the effect that it had on them, how ecstatic and exhilarated they were to have that experience of ‘real’ acting, and I was so proud of both of them.

Whether or not they harness that passion on the night is out of my hands.

But, either way, I know that their eyes have been opened to the power of literature, Shakespeare and drama and that they have achieved something already, just by learning the lines, that they never thought they would.

They have all expressed an interest in learning more about Shakespeare and his plays, and have told me that they have sought out movies, books and information in their own time because they want to know more.

As a teacher, one can’t ask for more than that.

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