Making a lesson out of a powerful drama

Theatre companies are very adept at making one size fit all: plays for adult audiences can go unchanged into schools as a stimulus for workshops and follow-up work.

A fine example is My Dark Sky, directed by Katherine Morley in the Tramway for the Glasgow-based Reeling and Writhing theatre company.

In mid October, the production goes on tour, mostly to schools but also with some public performances.The schools programme for My Dark Sky is the one-hour play followed by a one-hour post-show education workshop.

Carlibar Primary in East Renfrewshire, Carnoustie High in Angus, Theatre Workshop in Edinburgh, the Bathgate Regal in West Lothian, Loudon Academy in East Ayrshire, and Lochend Theatre in Dumfries and Galloway each host six of these events.

Together with the Tramway, the company will play to 54 schools and deliver 178 workshops. Though the programme is targeted at S1s and S2s, the company is happy to accommodate schools keen to bring pupils up to S4. Altogether, it should reach at least 6,000 pupils.

This is the latest and grandest stage in a project that started three years ago with a commission from East Renfrewshire to create a performance for Holocaust Memorial Day in 2004.

The performance was created with a cast of 20 senior pupils, drawn from East Renfrewshire's seven secondary schools.

Scenes were structured around the true story of the White Rose Society, a group of young people who tried to oppose Hitler and the Nazis by peaceful means.

As a follow-up, the Scottish Executive commissioned an education pack, resulting in the 156-page publication The Arts and the Holocaust: Lessons from the past for citizens of today. Written by directors Katherine Morley and Tim Nunn, it was distributed to all secondary schools in Scotland.

This led the authors to see further dramatic and educational possibilities in what they thought was a powerful and moving story of the courage shown by young people who really knew what they sought, the freedom to think for themselves.

Playwright Tim Nunn was asked to focus on four of the six main White Rose members - siblings Hans and Sophie Scholl, and their friends Willi Graf and Alexander Schmorell - all of whom knew that their struggle was dangerous, if not suicidal.

It is a powerful drama. After the performance came a breathing space, and then a discussion with the drama workers, senior education officer Viv Graham, Heather Cassidy and Abbie Wallace (replaced by Heather Fulton on tour).

Then, through the medium of drama games, improvisation, creative writing and visual art, the trio concentrates on the major issues opened up by the play, which they define as citizenship, segregation and persecution. They reflect on the immense bravery of the young people, and ask whether it could or should serve as a model.

Teachers benefit in direct ways from the project. The Goethe Institute has programmed a special performance and conference for senior pupils, German language teachers and other educational professionals. During the tour, the company will provide up to seven days of professional development, and teaching resources for follow-up work in the classroom are available through the company's website.

Brian Hayward

Reeling and Writhing, tel 0141 548 1555,

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