Going with the flow

1st June 2001 at 01:00
Patrice Baldwin combines poetry and drama

Despite timetable constraints, there is still opportunity for creative teaching and learning through drama. It can provide an experiential, structured medium for exploring text visually, verbally and kinaesthetically. It links to emotional learning, which is the most easily remembered and preferred by many pupils. Writing itself evokes a personal, emotional response from the reader.

Drama, dance, music and art all offer ways for pupils to express their individual and shared understandings of a text.

Tennyson's poem The Lady of Shalott can be used across the arts and with different age groups. This narrative poem features a Lady who lives in a tower near Camelot. She is believed to be cursed and cannot look at the world directly as this will activate the curse, so she weaves a tapestry of images reflected in her mirror.

Sir Lancelot appears in the mirror. She rushes to the window. The mirror breaks; the curse comes upon her. She leaves the tower and, writing her name on a boat, floats in it upstream as she sings a mournful song. When the boat arrives at Camelot she is dead. In the crowd, Lancelot comments on her lovely face, never knowing he was the catalyst for her death.

I have worked with this poem with participants as diverse as Year 5 pupils from a rural primary school and international drama specialists at the last National Drama conference. The basic drama strategies were the same.

Tennyson's words conjure up sounds, images, and movement. In role, he primary class described the setting as if they were reapers, and responded to the Lady's singing by speaking thoughts aloud as we listened to a tape. Group improvisations were based on the scenes she saw reflected.

We scoured the poem for explicit and implicit sound words, and devised a sound collage, which we recorded to make the background for movement. Words linked to movement became the stimulus for creating a dance. We wrote lyrics for the Lady's song.

On pieces of shattered mirror (a jigsaw of paper pieces mounted on silver and rejoined for display) we wrote poems about the moment when she moves to the window, her memories from the past cast aside. The group divided as the banks of the river, chanted a lament as the Lady (teacher in role) flowed past, and then reassembled as the townspeople when her body arrived at Camelot.

As townspeople, they tried to decide what to do with her body. A funeral was devised and ritualistically carried out; some of the children excluded themselves "because she was cursed".

The pupils also produced artwork in the style of John Waterhouse and Charles Keeping. The John Waterhouse picture shown here can be ordered online as a poster, postcard or slide from Tate Britain www.tate.org.ukbritain The Lady of Shalott is available in an OUP edition (1986) illustrated by Charles Keeping.

For lesson outlines visit www.nationaldrama.co.uk Patrice Baldwin is adviser for the promotion of the arts in schools, Norfolk LEA and is primary officer for National Drama

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