A break from school, not from learning

Highland educationists and Eden Court Theatre are acting out a new scenario to bring drama to Higher students. Kenny Mathieson reports

The Highland teenagers seem keen to get into their Higher drama course, even though it means giving up holiday time. This morning's session combines practice with theory and analysis.

Two of Eden Court Theatre's drama workers enact scenes from Ibsen's The Doll's House and the students comment on the way in which various elements of the subtext and meaning of the text were communicated by the actors.

The focus then shifts to the pupils. They are split into groups of three, with one directing the other two in a short scene from Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard. Then each group performs their work: it is an exercise which reveals many subtle variations on an identical scene.

Highland Council has joined forces with Eden Court Theatre in Inverness to provide a pilot extra-curricular Higher drama course for students entering the sixth year next term. It is the only such scheme in Scotland at present, although the idea came from a dormant initiative in Scottish Borders.

Highland schools are poorly served for drama. Only Thurso High school timetables Higher drama, although Dingwall Academy also had a drama teacher until recently. Seven of the 26 students enrolled in the Eden Court course are from there. None has previously taken drama at Standard grade.

Angela Morris, the drama tutor appointed to run it, visited schools in the Highlands earlier this year to introduce the project. It demands considerable commitment from the students, but the take-up has been impressive.

"We originally allowed for a maximum of 20 places," Ms Morris says, "and my expectation was that we would get 12 to 15. In fact, we had so many good applications that we extended it to 26.

"For purely practical reasons, our original intention was to limit the intake to Inverness and the immediate area, because the students have to finance their own travel and accommodation. However, we had so much interest that we have ended up with students from Ullapool and Lochaber as well."

The course is made up of three units: investigative drama which requires the students to devise their own original drama), study of a text in a theatrical context and contemporary Scottish theatre. The course will lay stress on a range of drama skills, including acting and directing, as well as analysis and criticism. Ms Morris, who teaches communications at Inverness College, also sees the course as being about developing group skills and team work.

The students, 11 of whom are boys, met for the first time at the beginning of June for a one-day induction, followed by an intensive week-long session after term ended. They have one more full week in October, followed by three days in February and a four-day session during the Easter holidays. They are also committed to a further 11 Saturdays and will be given the opportunity of seeing plays at Eden Court and the Edinburgh Festival.

They must complete a number of assignments during the course, including writing essays and dramatic commentary, and an investigative drama folio. For the performance element of the course, they must act out contrasting scenes from Sophocles's Antigone and a contemporary Scottish play of their choice. Then they will sit the Higher drama exam in May.

Ms Morris acknowledges the demands the course will make on the students but feels that conducting it in a theatre will yield advantages over a classroom base.

"It does require a great deal of commitment from the students, many of whom are already involved in things like youth theatre groups or school orchestras," she says. "There was some concern in the schools about that, but they have been very supportive of what we are trying to do, as has the Scottish Qualifications Authority.

"I think they will benefit from being in the theatre environment. Eden Court's drama workers are very keen to contribute and the students will also have the opportunity of workshops with the resident choreographer and the technical production staff."

For details, contact Angela Morris, tel 01349 877805, or Sonia Rose at Eden Court Theatre, tel 01463 239841

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