Pupils step into roles on stage and behind the scenes at theatre

12th November 2010 at 00:00
Nine secondary schools are shown the ropes at Dundee Rep

Secrets and Lies. Trapped in a bubble. Self-pride. Abandonment. Dishonesty. Shame. Superficiality.

At first glance the list might be mistaken for chapter headings from a political history or bullet points from an account of the old Soviet system of education. They are, in fact, attempts by secondary pupils in Dundee to reveal "what is really happening" in Henrik Ibsen's play A Doll's House.

We are gathered in a room backstage at Dundee Rep Theatre, where five senior pupils are digging into the themes of Ibsen's controversial play of 1879. But this is no academic exercise. These five senior pupils are working with the theatre's education officer, Vikki Doig, to prepare a drama workshop for S2 pupils at Craigie High, which the senior pupils will run themselves the following day.

Fifty senior pupils from Dundee's nine secondary schools are all busy somewhere in the building, gaining experience of professional theatre. Upstairs, the rehearsal room vibrates to what sounds like Siberian throat singing as hopeful young actors are put through voice exercises, the low hum building to a crescendo which then transforms into booming lines like "Is this a dagger I see before me?"

In a corner of the same rehearsal room, would-be directors counter the sound waves with ideas. They are discussing how to set and stage Ibsen's play in a 1920s London town house.

A Doll's House is the current Dundee Rep production; and after two days' work, the 50 pupils will together produce a scene from the play for an invited audience of education specialists, industry professionals and family members.

The youngsters are taking on all the roles: as stage managers, lighting designers, sound designers, wardrobecostume designers, press and marketing team members and, with Ms Doig, as creative learning facilitators, part of the theatre's education outreach team.

Enterprise @ the Rep began last year as a one-day event with 35 senior pupils, but such was its popularity and success that this year it has been expanded to a two-day event with 50 pupils.

"Seventy-five seniors applied, but 50 is the max we can take," says press officer Alison McDicken, as she discusses posters, press releases and tweets with her new team.

"Feedback from last year suggested one day was not enough. The pupils felt too much was packed in and things were rushed."

Candidates this year had to apply in writing, as well as undergo interviews and workshops - as they would in professional life. Good communication skills and an ability to learn quickly were top priority for inclusion.

Not all the participants want to be bathed in the limelight, to direct or work backstage. Some of Ms Doig's charges want to teach or become social workers, and what they are seeking is either chalk-face experience or experience of team work and problem solving which will boost their confidence and improve communication skills.

"They are learning how to explain, demonstrate and lead a group, how to role-play and work as a team," says Ms Doig.

"I'm impressed by their understanding of the play and by their willingness to improvise and experiment. What they are learning to grasp are the intentions behind a drama workshop, how and why it is structured in the way it is, how to make it appear seamless and how to support each other in presenting it."

If there is a downside to the two-day enterprise, it is that the vast majority of the participants are female and of the boys most are attracted to the technical side. So one girl is being cast in two male acting roles, the terminally ill Dr Rank and the blackmailing Krogstad, though it is a proposition she seems to relish.

As one the Rep's seasoned actors, Robert Paterson, puts it, "You have to be professional. You have to get on with it. What can seem problematic at first glance can turn out to be a brilliant opportunity.

"That's really what the two days are about - opportunities to explore and to develop, to learn and experience and, not least, to have fun."

Jamie McGilchrist's diary

Day one

My first day at Enterprise @ the Rep has just concluded and I can't wait for tomorrow.

Over the two days I will be working within the press and marketing department, with the prospect of a career in journalism. The other departments, from acting to stage manager, directing to scenic design, all play a huge part in the theatre's existence.

Today I was incredibly busy, learning more about the importance of marketing a product or brand, while also speaking to journalist Jennifer Cosgrove about her career and working for the publisher DC Thomson.

That was followed by interviews for STV News and for Wave 102 Radio about the Enterprise @ the Rep experience.

After the interviews, the press team came together to think of location ideas for a photo for The Courier the next day. Afterwards, it was back to the office to write the text for the photocall which had to be sent away before the end of day.

I have been amazed at how much commitment and effort goes into the day-to- day running of the theatre to ensure all operations run smoothly and sufficiently.

Day two

I'm sad to say my time at The Rep Theatre is over. Although tiring, the two days have been incredibly informative, fun and educational.

Learning about the process of producing press releases and photo calls, while also arranging photo shoots, has provided great experience of working within the press department.

The staff have all been incredibly friendly, committed and hard-working and have been an inspiration.

This evening, each department gave a short presentation on their time at the theatre and proved that the experience has been enjoyed by all who took part.

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