2nd July 1999 at 01:00
There was a time when "gentlemen" paid to watch actresses changing in their dressing rooms. The excitement of theatre has always been bound up with a hint of sleaze, the onstage glamour depending on sweat and sometimes exploitation behind the scenes. The Theatre Royal Drury Lane encapsulates the whole of British theatre history from the Restoration to Miss Saigon, the present 1812 building being the third since Charles II granted it the first licence (after the dearth oftheatre during the Commonwealth period) in 1662.

A backstage visit here is a theatrical experience in its own right as three actors skilfully manage to appear as 16 characters, including Grimaldi, Sheridan and Nell Gwynne, in a peripatetic piece directed by Andrea Brooks. There is quite a story to tell: here women acted onstage for the first time, the National Anthem received its first performance, footlights were introduced and the safety curtain was invented (the theatre burned down twice). There is, of course, a ghost - a man in grey who appears at the back of the circle of an afternoon - and spectacle was always this theatre's stock-in-trade, long before the helicopter landed in Miss Saigon. The Epsom Derby was once "run" here, the horses suspended on pulleys from the flies. There have been elephants, too, as well as famous Shakespeareans (Sir Frank Benson was knighted on the 300th anniversary of Julius Caesar) and the pantomime dame to end them all, Dan Leno. School parties can benefit from group booking rates and a teacher's pack will be available in September. Try to take 30 or so students - any age over eight; smaller numbers may find themselves included in groups which can be uncomfortably large. Pick up a store of facts and anecdotes - and accept an orange from Nell as you leave. Tickets: 0171 494 5000 This year's BP Portrait Award has been won by 32-year-old Clive Smith for his melancholy study of a figure alone on a double bed. He receives pound;10,000 and a possible pound;3,000 commission to paint a portrait for the gallery. He is a graduate in fashion from Kingston Polytechnic, has studied painting in New York and won third prize in this competition last year. The BP Travel Award 1999 will allow Jennifer McCrae to study methods of teaching portraiture at the Hogeschool St Lukas in Brussels.

Another regular summer date, as eagerly awaited as Henley and Wimbledon, is the National Festival of Music for Youth which will take place on the South Bank in London between July 5 and 10. Hundreds of participants will play and sing to each other and receive an assessment from a panel of adjudicators and, on Tuesday evening, there will be a special concert given by the Youth Choirs of Britain (Tickets: 0171 960 4242). On July 5, Professor Ken Robinson, chair of the National Advisory Committee for Cultural and Creative Education, Gavin Henderson, chair of the National Foundation for Youth Music and Chris Smith, Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport will take part in a conference, Music inEducation: the way forward. Information: 0181 870 9624.

Talking of music, Rob Whale of Bradfield School, Sheffield, was declared the Classic FMTES music teacher of the year last week. Rob is an enthusiastic and inspiring teacher if ever there was one, and the wonderful thing is that he is not alone; music is spectacularly alive in schools all over the country. The standard of the supporting CDs and tapes sent in to Classic FM and the citations of grateful colleagues, pupils and parents gave the judges reason to be optimistic for the future of music education.

Next week sees the culmination of BT National Connections, when representative school and youth drama groups will perform on National Theatre stages. New plays have been written by 10 established playwrights, including Alan Ayckbourn, Peter Gill and Sharman Macdonald, all to be published subsequently by Faber. Penrice School in Cornwall is bringing the youngest cast to perform Early Man by Hannah Vincent, in which Sam gets into conversation with a boy who has been preserved in peat for thousands of years. Tickets: 0171 452 3000.

A new play by Kathy Robinson, Dr Marigold, celebrates British sign language. Set in the 1870s, it deals with the oppression of and discrimination against deaf people but, says Kathy, it has resonances for today. She would like to see BSL given the status of other languages in the British Isles; more people use it than any other after English and Welsh. Performances will be at Arc, a new theatre in Stockton-on-Tees between July 7 and 10. Tickets: 01642 666600 In Bolsover, Junction Arts are helping the children of Tibshelf Townend Junior School transform their hall and entrance-hall by creating a huge oil painting of Apollo and the Muses, inspired by the wall-paintings in Bolsover Castle.

Every pupil is also painting a star self-portrait for the hall ceiling, an echo of the 17th century star chamber ceiling at the castle. Junction Arts: 01909 724665.

Heather Neill

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