The Bard and Borderline

23rd October 1998 at 01:00
"Don't be afraid, the island is full of noises, sounds and sweet songs. They are delightful, and don't hurt you." This is Caliban in The Tempest, but "put into proper words" by an Alloway 10-year-old.

She knows what she means, because she has just read the original Shakespeare to the accompaniment of a sound picture devised by her pals, crooning and humming, clicking tongues and pattering hands in what they think are the natural sounds of that enchanted isle.

This little performance is a snapshot from a unique collaboration between Borderline Theatre Company and South Ayrshire Council, designed to satisfy the demands of the "guidelines" for the primary children, and to support the work of English and drama teaching at secondary level. The mechanics are simple: Borderline provides a drama worker for a two-term course of workshops funded by South Ayrshire Council. The scheme is now in its third year, and involves 21 primaries and all of the council's secondaries.

Simple, too, is the project design. Introducing Shakespeare can be a problem at secondary level, much less so at primary. As Christine Woodburn,the newly-appointed Borderline drama worker, says: "It's wonderful to catch them young, before they have had time to learn what they shouldn't like, before they are told what is too difficult for them."

And on the basis that "all human life is there", the same Shakespeare plays provide all the stories a drama teacher in a primary school needs to investigate family relationships, friendship and dislike, anger and forgiveness.

It is a simple and effective scheme, but Christine Woodburn needs all her considerable enthusiasm to implement it. For the first six weeks of this school year, she has been working at 10 primary schools, each with a weekly session of one-and-a-half or two hours. At Alloway Primary, P5 was a class of 30, in none too large a space - a drama worker needs a wide repertoire of strategies to maintain a creative focus for such a group for 90 minutes.

Woodburn manages it with something to spare, with a range of whole-group,small-group and individual exercises, and with herself as both "teacher" and "teacher in role". Individually and in groups they explore the island, and the story. Woodburn has a magical sea chest, from which she can dress as Antonio or Prospero.

When questioned by the children, the two characters give their differing versions of the usurpation. The children play their role intelligently: one girl tells Prospero: "When we asked Antonio about deposing you, he had a funny look on his face."

South Ayrshire demonstrates its confidence in this work with an annual grant of Pounds 60,000. For this money, the council can offer not only drama and theatre studies throughout its schools, from P1 to S6, but also an integrating project for mainstream children and those with special educational needs. Out of school, Borderline offers October Week workshops for primary and secondary, and a Saturday morning workshop for five to eight-year-olds. In the winter months, the theatre company provides in-service training in drama techniques for teachers and community leaders.

The 5-14 guidelines for drama are generous and enlightened, but it is widely accepted that they can be challenging for class teachers on several counts. Some are uneasy with the "abdication" of allowing the children to "own" the work, others find it difficult to interchange the discipline of the classroom with the "agreements" of the drama room. Many simply will not tolerate the noise. For authorities not yet at ease with their drama provision, the South Ayrshire scheme could be a model.

Borderline, tel: 01292 281010

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