Brave new drama

Arts education in schools is enshrined in the 5-14 curriculum guidelines, but + even some versatile and skilful teachers confess to feelings of inadequacy at + the idea of teaching "arts". Outside the school gates lurk the arts companies, + starved of money, and well aware that schools have a budget, some of which is + earmarked for arts activities. Inevitably they come together, with such + frequency that the Scottish Arts Council now has a consultative committee + urgently considering exactly how the interface between school and arts + companies should be managed.No doubt the SAC has taken note of Borderline + Theatre Company, which operates out of its base in Ayr, and offers what manager+ Edward Jackson calls "the most complete service to schools to be found in + Scotland". To sample the range of work on offer, I caught up with its + remarkable new programme for primary schools in South Ayrshire, which + introduces Shakespeare to P1-P7.Shakespeare is bedrock to the theatre, but + mention his name to the non-theatre goer and it generally prompts a knee-jerk + reaction, aimed or otherwise. This is reason enough for Louise Brown who, with + her fellow drama worker Amy Macdonald, delivers the Borderline education + programme:"All we set out to do is show that Shakespeare is accessible and fun.+ We introduce some of the language, just a phrase at a time, but our work is + plot-driven, showing that the stories and the people are relevant to young + people of today."Twelve primary schools take the six-week Shakespeare + programme, and each gets a weekly visit from the drama worker, every session + lasting 90 minutes. I was able to see P5 in the second session of The Magical + Island (based on The Tempest) in a school on the outskirts of Ayr, and came + away mightily impressed with the depth of the children's experience, and drama + teaching of the finest quality.The week before, the children had learned the + outline of the story, discovering that it grew out of the brothers' quarrel. + They had painted the voyage to the island, and brothers at odds, and could + remember their names. This week, it was time to meet the people on the island, + and for Louise Brown (with help from a friend) to exercise her considerable + acting and educational skills in a technique known as "teacher in role". "Let + me introduce you to Prospero," she tells the class sitting round her on the gym+ floor. She goes to her shopping bag and, with her back to the class, slowly + and silently ties a simple blue cloak round her shoulders. Erect and stern, + she returns as Prospero, to tell them about his daughter and his slaves, and + offer to teach the class magic. Like Ariel, they "tread the ooze of the salt + deep", feelingly. He turns his helper into a monkey, and a boy into a dog. He + lends his cloak to one of the class, and the borrower finds she too possesses + the magic gifts.Then it is time to meet Caliban. Louise Brown crouches by the + wall bars, slipping on a visor, and taking on a deformed shape, in which + Caliban crabs his way back towards the circle. There is no malevolence, no + threat in his attitude, but the children, in a sunny afternoon in the gym, draw+ back nervously. Caliban, however, is not as bad as he has been painted by + Prospero. "I only scratch people who are rude to me," he tells the class, and + they more than half believe him. They squelch into his muddy cave, are drips + and drops from the roof, joyously try out the impressive echo.I was still + thinking that, when it came to "teacher roles", being a Caliban was a degree or+ two more effective than being a Prospero, when Ariel arrived, in his belled + hat and airy style, and taught them more magic, this time creating invisible + animals.And all the time, there was the other "magic", of the empowered child + and the released imagination. It was drama teaching in the grand manner, and + the only concern I felt was that, after this, Shakespeare's plays could be + something of a disappointment.Borderline Theatre Company, tel: 01292 281010

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