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Bath Primary Schools’ Arts Festival

Posted: Friday 16 July, 2010

This Summer, Next Stage Theatre Company is pleased to have brought its Theatre In Education initiative to six Primary schools in B&NES. The Bath Primary Schools Arts Festival celebrates a variety of music, dance, theatre and art, this year focusing on the culture of different countries. Anne Bull, the Head Teacher from Weston Alls Saints Primary School and organiser of the Festival, invited Next Stage to run day-long workshops for pupils ranging from 5 to 11 years old. The TIE team have adapted their popular “All The World’s A Stage” series to bring youngsters an exciting mix of drama games, exercises and performance skills.

First up was a day at Weston All Saints Primary School with two groups from Year 1. Their chosen country was France so over each two hour session the TIE team introduced the children to French traditional stories and story telling and explored the links to some of our own well known pantomimes. Starting with warm up games, exercises and mime, the class moved on to enacting scenes from the classic French stories: Cinderella and The Sleeping Beauty. Pupils and actors identified and represented key pantomime characters in a fun activity called Play Doh Tableaux. From this the pupils started to build up a performance of each story. By the end of the workshop the pupils had separated into 4 groups each enacting a section of their panto to the rest of the class. The teachers commented “the actors were really engaged with the children” and “there was very good structure and clarity”.

The team then visited St John’s Primary School in Keynsham. The France workshop was delivered to Years 4 and 5, and the teachers commented afterwards “the children thought the workshops were ‘Brilliant’.” The school is also interested in working in the future with Next Stage in tailor-made workshops to encourage the children’s story making, expression, and speaking with confidence.

The Next Stage TIE team visited Batheaston Primary School and worked with over thirty Year 6 pupils for a full day. Again the chosen country was France, but working with just one group enabled the actors and class to explore the pantomime themes in greater depth. In the early part of the workshop the actors used games and improvisation to encourage the youngsters to understand the role of the travelling players who, in the old days, spread the traditions of Commedia dell’arte throughout Europe. By the end of the afternoon, the pantomime performances were fully fleshed out and the class performed their stories to parents and younger pupils.

Next Stage then returned to WASPS to spend a day with two Year 5 groups. This time the country was “Japan” so the children were introduced to some basic Japanese words and phrases before focusing on the physicality of the performances in Noh Theatre. Next Stage’s Fight Choreographer Nicky Wilkins taught the pupils the principles of stage fighting and youngsters learnt how to safely and effectively produce realistic onstage fight routines which were then linked together as part of a scene. The children mimed putting on the exaggerated makeup used by Noh actors and one of the Next Stage team demonstrated how to wear traditional Japanese robes. The teachers involved in the day said the pupils had had a very positive experience and would like to work with the Next Stage team again.

The final workshop based on France took place at Bathwick St Mary and once again the team worked all day with a thirty-strong Year 6 group. The talented pupils enjoyed the warm-up games, the improvisation and mime workshops and developing the pantomime stories through tableaux, narrated scenes and improvised duologues. The class teacher felt that all the activities could be followed up effectively in either literacy or French lessons and said “Thank you for a great day. The children and I really loved it. We would like to develop future links with Next Stage.”

When the Next Stage team moved to Whitchurch Primary, the chosen countries changed to India and Greece. In the morning the actors worked with thirty Year 4 pupils, making shadow puppets and using them to present with sounds and narration the story of Mowgli. All the pupils enjoyed their group sessions and were happy to take their puppets home at the end of the day. In the afternoon, Next Stage actors worked with Year 3 pupils exploring Greek theatre and the use of masks. After improvisation and mime sessions the class enacted scenes from Greek mythology, with a masked chorus, a narrator and some clever and inventive physical theatre.

The final drama workshop on the Next Stage BPSAF schedule was at Castle Primary School where the team worked all day with the Year 6 class on their chosen country: Greece. Again mask work featured prominently, the children enjoying games such as Secret Spies, and playing different characters whilst exploring how wearing a mask could change one’s persona. The second part of the day was spent learning and rehearsing the tale of Hercules and his Twelve Labours. By the afternoon, the pupils were able to perform in front of their parents this classic Greek myth.

The Next Stage team have been privileged to visit and work with so many talented and inventive young people. Warm welcomes have been extended by every school and actors from the company have reflected on the attractive and stimulating environments in which today’s Primary pupils have the chance to learn. Thank you to everyone involved in this venture – we hope it won’t be long before we can meet you all again.

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