Posted on Fri 6 Jul 2012 by Ciaran McConville
I recently visited this extraordinary school, based in a beautiful manor house between Hampton Court Palace and Bushy Park. I was inspired and moved by head teacher Guy Holloway’s enlightened views on education. He talked to me about the benefits of maths lessons being taught in French, the way that music and drama can be used to immerse students in history and the big ideas that have shaped our world today, and he even showed me Year 4’s work on – wait for it – Munch’s existential masterpiece, The Scream! As we walked through the gardens we came across a young student working with a film crew to produce a short piece of his own conception about food-labelling, which will be shown in the Houses of Parliament.
I have been to a lot of schools over the last academic year, and I hope to offer many more workshops and collaborate with a greater number of teachers from September. It’s wonderful to have that initial contact time with students, to be offered a moment in their busy calendars to say my little piece about theatre. And I am constantly awed by the pace at which teachers work, the energy they throw into it, and their ability to inspire, in the face of so many curricular restrictions and a mountain of paperwork.
A Year 9 student recently asked me, in front of quite a large group of her peers, why she is forced to answer questions on Shakespeare in an exam. I was stumped for an answer. I did my best to enthuse: “It’s because he’s wonderful and, like all great artists, he connects us with our past and forces us to ask the question, ‘Who am I?’” But she saw right through me. I couldn’t think of a reason why Shakespeare, of all people, who should be rooted in performance and a shared experience, has been made the focus of an exam syllabus that heaps such enormous pressure on young people without necessarily connecting them to the world they inhabit. And this is why – one of the many reasons why – I could never be a school teacher. Because they have to be able to answer this question. Enthusiasm is not enough. You’ve got to know how to connect the exam to the mind that has to sit it. I suppose the emphasis on connecting knowledge, science and art into something alive and experienced was what so impressed me on my visit to Hampton Court House.
International Youth Arts Festival
You will, I’m sure, have made imminent plans to sample our wonderful new menu from The French Tarte (the quiche is sublime). As you walk up to the Rose you won’t fail to notice that IYAF has arrived! The walls are full of art, the pillars hidden behind a thick wrapping of festival posters, and live music is echoing from the café, through the foyers, up to the office where I’m now sitting. I love IYAF and I have so much respect and admiration for the team behind it, and in particular Aniela Zaba. I wish I had an ounce of her energy. She’s a force of nature. Every year we at the Rose look on in awe at what she is able to create. There are big lessons to be taken from IYAF in terms of how we inject raw cultural 'juice' into Kingston for the remaining eleven months. Please do pick up a festival brochure, or check out the IYAF website. And make sure you come and see something – even if it’s at one of the other venues they are running around town. I think we should be very proud to have this wonderful festival in Kingston.
Rose Youth Theatre
Rose Youth Theatre students are coming to the end of their rehearsals for The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Cautionary Tales for Children and The Trial. All three productions are ambitious, in their own way, and share the great physical demands of a certain type of performative story-telling. We struggle, to be honest, to get full attendance over the summer term. Our students take on a lot of commitments, both in school and outside, and I am now adopting a stern view towards absentees... In an effort to give everyone a lot to do, our directors usually adopt a fairly ensemble style, but it’s obviously impossible to act at any kind of level if you’re speaking to an empty space. Those who have been able to attend, however, have given their usual focus, energy and generosity to the process. I taught the RYT groups last Saturday and realised just how much I love those sessions. We are truly blessed with the students that we have here. I always learn so much from them (although I guiltily acknowledge that it’s supposed to be the other way round).
Anyway, please do come and see their shows. Tickets are cheap and entertainment values are high, I would say.
I have written yet another extremely silly play, which makes three in one month. This is probably the reason why there haven’t been many blog posts of late. My play, InTents, will be staged by Bad Physics at Latitude, if you happen to be going. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Latitude, it’s a music festival outside Southwold in Suffolk, famous for being the most 'Radio 4' of all the big festivals. I’m a Radio 4 listener myself, so I feel like I understand the audience. But really this play is the silliest and goriest piece I've ever written. It will embark from the theatre tent at 11:40pm on Friday 13 July into the dark, dark woods... Please do let me know if you’re going and get a chance to see it. I will be here, rehearsing Rose Youth Theatre.
Phew! So much going on. Please do come and see us during the IYAF period. I know you will be as excited as I am by the sheer energy of theatre made by young people.