A belated Happy Birthday to William Shakespeare, 436 years old last Sunday. Thousands of children and teachers all over the UK, and not a few in other countries, celebrated at the end of last term and some are doing so still.
In Swindon alone 1,200 children and young people and 40 of their teachers spent two weeks staging 35-minute versions of 33 of the plays, at the rate of six a day. The marathon ended with seven year-olds from Oliver Tomkins infants in The Tempest and 10-year-olds from Haydonleigh primary in Cymbeline on Friday April 14 followed by productions of Lear and Othello by older students the next day. And the rousing finale was a version of Titus Andronicus, described by Tim Noble, prime mover in the Swindon project, senior teacher at Greendown community school and primary liaison officer, as "a cross between EastEnders and Reservoir Dogs".
Swindon was one of 10 flagship areas in the Shakespeare Centre Millennium Link Project to which the New Millennium Experience Company contributed pound;50,000. Still to come is Tempest 2000, staged by young people at the Sherman Theatre in Cardiff, a video of an updated Shrew, called Taming, by students at Egglescliffe school in Sunderland and a production of Macbeth by Scottish Youth Theatres which will tour until June. News of this enterprise has spread far and wide. Teresa O'Connor of Shakespeare's Birthplace Trust describes how 20 schools in Moscow are involved in an exchange with Stratford students, there's a year-long project in Romania and applications from would-be participants in India are still rolling in. Altogether, 33 countries have been involved. The link is truly worldwide and there's a website to prove it: www.shakespeare.org.uk Young people aged between 18 and 25 have been spending part of their Easter holiday at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden taking a look Behind the Scenes. For four days they have watched rehearsals and performances and taken part in workshops and discussions. On one particular morning some of the 50 or so participants were learning about lighting and stage management while others were designing sets and costumes for The Crucible.
Rebecca Hanson described the stage manager's responsibilities - still onerous even in a technological age. She has been described, she said, as looking like an air traffic controller, pressing buttons and waving her arms while wearing a head-set. Michael Scott demonstrated some of the secrets of the lighting rig and then the students put together a mini show with cues, lighting and effects, including smoke and wave patterns on the backdrop. By the way, LXQ1 means the first cue requiring electrics and ballet dancers re often lit from the side for a three-dimensional effect. Teachers keen to mount their own school opera should find out about the week-long Write an Opera course, which covers everything from marketing to design, music and staging.
Set designs were coming along swiftly in the foyer of the beautiful new Linbury Studio theatre at the ROH. Cardboard boxes with one side removed enabled the students to get a sense of depth as they attempted to express the themes of The Crucible - religion, devil-worship, sexual passion. Bernadette Roberts and Bridget Kimak, respectively set and costume designers, kept an eye on developments and offered advice. For information about Behind the Scenes, Write an Opera and other education events at ROH, ask to be added to the mailing list: 0207212 9410 or e-mail: email@example.com Contemporary dance for children as young as five makes up the programme of the aptly-named Offspring season now under way at The Place in Euston. Offspring is part of Spring Loaded, a celebration of dance for all at the Royal Festival Hall and the Linbury Studio as well as The Place. Yolande Snaith Theatredance ends the season with The Thing that Changes from This into That, which is described as a journey "through a magical landscape of bizarre images and strange stories inspired by myths from around the world". The theme is dressing up and the youngest children are invited to enter a magical world where nothing can be taken for granted, rather in the manner of Alice. Performances are on June 3 and 4, with a family workshop on the Sunday. Compa$!a Aracaladanza presents Ana and the Rainbow, about a little girl who explores the colours of the rainbow on her bicycle, on April 29. This too is suitable for children over five. For information about Spring Loaded: www.theplace.org.uk Museums and Galleries Month is almost upon us and, as with the Edinburgh Fringe, there are those who can't wait for the off. Encompass 2000 was launched early this month under Engage, an organisation which advocates professional development for gallery educators. Encompass 2000 will connect schools and galleries across England, targeting especially 16 to 18-year-olds and primary children in 10 new projects. Examples are the Spacex Gallery in Exeter where the older age group will develop site-specific work on the themes of fashion, the body, attraction and repulsion, taking three contemporary Dutch artists as their starting point.
In Poole at the Study Gallery, a pyramid of rural schools will curate their own exhibition in response to the gallery's collection. And in Stoke-on-Trent factory workers will spend time with artists. Tel: 0117 9070234.