Making a drama out of a tour bus

17th March 2006 at 00:00
It was a raw afternoon to be going around Glasgow on top of a sightseeing bus. We were on board for performative art with the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama's contemporary theatre practice course.

Jess Thorpe, who runs the course, explains "performative" as "an event blending installation and performance".

Children were invited to submit ideas on what it is like to live in Glasgow and the first five schools to respond were offered two students on the RSAMD course to work on this theme with English, social studies or drama pupils.

Costumed and prepared, pupils awaited the travelling audience at various locations on the bus route. On the bus, in place of an official guide's commentary on Glasgow past and present, comperes Vivienne Hullin and Kevin McCabe, who were both young, born and bred Glasgow students, regaled us with their personal, and often ignominious, recollections of the places we were passing.

Hyndland Secondary began and ended our tour in George Square with an Elvis Presley lookalike, rapturously welcomed by his fans, changing their home city to (G)Las Vegas.

Next stop, St Roch's Secondary performed a graceful dragon dance outside the cathedral, with armfuls of balloons.

St Paul's High gave a narrative, with a terrified girl screaming by the fountain in Glasgow Green as disaster strikes the city. Rescue came further down the road, with actors in protective suits and messages of comfort.

Spurning the idea of a message, Govan High experimented in ambiguity, with helmeted police leading a dance outside the Armadillo, but relented with a more traditional view of Glasgow.

On Kelvin Way, Hillhead High pupils were being hedonistic to the sound of "Celebration Times", the funereal pall bearers opening their coffin to release coloured balloons, while the brides and bridesmaids danced in the street.

Outside the Kelvingrove Museum, a score of black-suited city workers, again from Hyndland Secondary, protected by black glasses and black umbrellas, read their newspapers and marched in formation, oblivious to their surroundings.

Here, as everywhere else, people on the streets simply pretended not to notice these extraordinary sights and carried on walking or waiting as if the pavements were empty.

Ms Thorpe was assisted by Tony Goode, from Newcastle, who is something of a guru in community drama.

"We have been very lucky to have Tony," she says. "Both the students and I have found the way he uses drama in education quite amazing."

Goode is a co-author of one of the set texts for the course, which made for a little awkwardness, for the students - who usually assume authors are dead - as much as for himself, when asked to explain things he had written many years ago.

But there were benefits too.

"I've always thought that it was the role of the artist to add meaning.

Jess is less concerned with meaning and narrative. This has opened me to alternative strategies in working with people.

"I look forward to coming back," he says. "Glasgow is a good place to work, with its strong cultural agenda. Everybody knows everybody else and they have a confidence which makes them open with visitors like me."

Brian Hayward

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