Playing at being men

26th September 1997 at 01:00
Would you be brave enough to play a man in front of the external examiner?" An A-level theatre studies teacher throws down the gauntlet to his all-female class. There's a minute or two of thinking before one girl comes up with a conclusion that, from the warm response she receives, shows that everyone else in the room has been thinking the same thing. "Just to be on stage as a man and for the audience to look at you as a man would be incredible."

Her group had just watched a series of clips from videos on cross-gender casting in performance in an education workshop at the Theatre Museum in Covent Garden. "Incredible" seems a fair judgment to make after watching Declan Donellan's all-male As You Like It, Kathryn Hunter as King Lear and seeing archive photographs of Michael Redgrave, Edith Evans and Peggy Ashcroft playing the opposite gender.

The workshop, presented by Sophie Ward, head of the education department, is one of a series offered by the Theatre Museum. The workshops are geared for a wide range of visiting groups, from primary to adult education and social groups, although most of the workshops are for secondary and A-level students.

The idea behind them is to shed light on particular themes through textual interpretations, looking at selections of productions on video and also doing improvisation work. Students will thus, it is hoped, be lured into going to West End theatres.

As well as workshops on specific themes such as cross-gender casting, Artaud and the development of physical theatre, both for A-level theatre studies and the Victorians and their Entertainment for key stages 1 and 2, the Theatre Museum runs workshops on current productions. Coming up on October 1 and 15 are workshops for further education students on Caryl Churchill's Blue Heart. The sessions are being led by director Max Stafford Clark of the Out of Joint Theatre Company, who has directed many of her plays.

Although the focus is primarily on preparing groups for productions that they are going to see, Sue Rolfe, head of press, is prepared to design "bespoke" workshops on request for any school groups of 10 or more.

The Theatre Museum is hosting Education in the Spotlight, a theatre education evening for primary and secondary schoolteachers as part of Stagefair on September 30 from 5 to 7pm. Education officers from leading London theatres and the Theatre Museum will discuss the variety of theatre programmes on offer, followed by 30-minute workshops from the Theatre Museum, the Royal Court, the National Theatre, Shakespeare's Globe and others. For more information, contact Anne Massey on 0171 836 0971. For information about the Theatre Museum's education workshops, ring 0171 836 7891

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