Henry Goodman is the best Shylock I've ever seen: complex, moving, bitter, maddened by his daughter's treachery, he presents a whole, rounded believable character. Mr Goodman is also, it turns out, a rather good drama teacher. A hundred teachers joined his class (50 at a time) during a one-day conference at the National Theatre last week to launch this season's Lloyds TSB live! NT tour.
Henry began by saying "I absolve you - I'm a Jewish Pope! - you have no responsibility to be impressive", a most liberating beginning; it's salutary for teachers to remember that drama should not be competitive. "Acting can nurture the instinct of a quiet person and calm down others." He helped his class to react in simple games, to trust instinct and avoid planning too carefully. With the second set, Henry was able to make an acting metaphor come alive. Two people, one a "driver", the other a "car" worked together, the car moving according to the touch-direction of the driver. The car, said Henry, was the actor, the driver was the language. "Finding a need for a metaphor in Shakespeare is more useful than just understanding. Shakespeare gives you insights into what he wants people to do by what they say. Portia, for instance, walks into a situation she doesn't understand; she needs to say the 'Quality of mercy' speech."
The tour will be As You Like It. Its director, Sean Holmes, bravely held his first rehearsal in public with Sophie Bold (Rosalind) and Don Gilet (Orlando) and demonstrated how the characters can appear to be playful or deadly serious according to how they move and speak the lines.
The tour, a performance with workshop, has already been booked by schools, but a teachers' drama pack, video and CD-Rom are available free to all secondaries. Tel: 0171 543 4691.
Trevor Nunn's production of The Merchant of Venice is now in the National Theatre's Olivier auditorium. NT Education: 0171 452 3333. Tickets: 0171 452 3000 Scarcely a month to go and some millennium celebrations have already begun. Pupils aged 11 and 12 from Allenbourn middle school, East Borough, Wimborne, Dorset, have been learning about art and design with the help of a pack published by the New Millennium Experience Company. They designed mementoes expressing some of the ideas in the Mind Zone in the Dome and entered them for a competition judged by local firm Mathmos. Eleven-year-old Niall Dermondy won a lava-lamp manufactured by Mathmos with his key ring made from scraps of paper, bubble wrap and metal to show distortion. Teachers in primary, secondary and special schools can still receive the free pack which so inspired Niall by phoning their local New Millennium Experience Company office or 0171 808 0200.
Fun will not end on January 1, of course. In the early spring, Folkworks will begin their tour of England, Fiddles on Fire. The five young players, including Dezi Donnelly, the 1999 Young Traditional Musician of the Year, set out to demonstrate the versatility of the instrument. There will be a day of workshops, Fiddle Workout, for beginners and experienced players on January 29 at Darlington Arts Centre, Co Durham. For details of this and the tour, phone Folkworks: 0191 222 1717.
But we still have Christmas to enjoy or endure first and that means end-of-term treats and performances. Separation: the story of Bullman and the Moonsisters is an opera to be performed in the new Linbury Studio Theatre at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, on December 2 and 3 by primary school children. St Clement Danes Junior Opera Company consists of writers and performers aged seven to 11 and, before the grand opening of the main house, its members will sing the story of two moon sisters who get light and attention from the sun. A jealous comet separates them. One sister falls in America, the other in China and then there's a race against time: the sisters have to be up in space before the next full moon. Tickets are pound;1 (50p for children. Tel: 0171 304 4000.
A treat for even younger London children could be The Elves and the Shoemakers, last season's Polka Theatre hit by Mike Kenny. It will be at the National Theatre for 13 performances from Monday December 6. Good-hearted elves intervene in the cold night to help out some over-worked shoemakers. Plenty of concert and nativity play organisers will be wishing for similar helping hands. Tickets: 0171 452 3000.