Actors don't make a drama over inclusion

9th April 2004 at 01:00
Teachers who thought the most useful part of their training was classroom practice will not be at all surprised to learn that the acting profession holds similar beliefs.

As head of acting at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, Hugh Hodgart could say ex cathedra in the Tron Theatre in Glasgow at the end of a week of pro-am productions, featuring acting students working under professional directors, that "working with professionals was an essential part of their training".

A few days later, it was the turn of the BA contemporary theatre practice students to go public. Ten second year students partnered Giant Productions in devising two presentations for special needs and mainstream schools locally.

It was no accident that inclusion - the current buzzword in the arts - was the key to the enterprise. Giant Productions, whose home in Partick is the Centre for Inclusive Arts, has almost a decade of experience in this kind of work.

Founder Phyllis Steele discussed the company's evolving philosophy with the students before the two project directors began the two weeks of intensive training at the college, investigating techniques that underlie the work.

These vary from the aesthetic to the sternly practical, from the need to tell parts of the story by light, touch and scent, to the need to come in under budget.

The arts world is waiting for the Scottish Executive's declared inclusion policy to be written on banknotes. Meanwhile, the 10 students' brief was to devise shows, find the props and costumes in Giant Productions' and the college's cupboards and tour 12 performances to 11 schools, all for under pound;250.

Apart from all the creative work of design and performance, students also learn the horse work of crewing a tour, carrying in and setting up the set and lighting and clearing up afterwards.

Constraints are creative stimuli, as drama people like to say, and the students' ingenuity and vivacity made their work seem anything but under-nourished. The 10 divided into two teams of five, to devise two performances: A Song in the Desert, directed by Katrina Caldwell, for the senior pupils, and Amongst the Weather, led by David Topliff, for the juniors.

Anyone listening to Alistair Cooke in the last half-century will recognise the tactic of gently drawing in your audience, and this the Amongst the Weather team did with the soft continuo of William Rogue's guitar, while the other four students (Pauline Gibb, Sarah-Jane Grimshaw, Lisa Milne and Gareth Nicholls) had fun with a dressing-up box, trying on silly hats and a carrier bag.

The guitar led them into a song about four kinds of weather - sun, rain, snow and wind - and the appropriate hats were supplemented with sunglasses, mackintoshes, furs, scarves and the rest that made up the complete outfits.

From here it was an easy step to splash in puddles, lean into the wind, swelter or freeze and the team found gentle ways of sharing the sensations with their enthralled audiences with a little gentle water spray, a yellow globe, a scatter of fake snow or a whirling ribbon.

The constant image was the plant in the pot, encouraged by the rain, ripened by the sun, the seeds wind-blown and sleeping under the snow, all explained by letters from Grandad in Australia, obliging read in an Aussie accent by the postman.

It was an exercise in "making a Giant show from what you've got", as Mr Topliff put it, adding that he thought the team had "done quite well" - a comment I put down to directorial modesty.

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