Space to create memorable lessons

25th March 2011 at 00:00
Teachers at Scottish Youth Theatre's professional development session for early years drama will soon be delivering Oscar-winning classes, writes Douglas Blane

"We'll be working at a fast pace," Karen McGrady-Parker tells the early-years professionals at Scottish Youth Theatre's (SYT) twilight session on drama professional development. "At the end you'll have your own series of drama workshops to take back to the nursery.

"Stand up. Hands by your sides. Fingers loose. Touch your head. Touch your nose. Jump! Now we're going to play the name game. This is a chance for everyone to feel part of something special - and it lets us quickly assess the children. Call out your names, please, and do it with an emotion - tired, grumpy, happy, whatever."

It's the first of half-a-dozen warm-ups that associate director Karen and SYT colleague Fiona Manson don't just describe, but get participants to perform. With blood pumping and brains busy, it's time to get into groups and get creative. Flip-chart pages are soon filled with words triggered by music: floating, dreamy, river, seasons, flowers, swans, raindrops, starry night, ballet shoes, a princess in a snowy forest.

"Wow! You've enough there for a year of drama," Karen says. "Can you see what we've done? Rather than devise a workshop on a certain topic, you've generated ideas for food, safety, people, the world - loads of topics. But you have come at it from a creative angle. You have found something to get excited about. Only then do you tick curriculum boxes."

For the rest of the workshop, groups start from "creative triggers" selected from a table scattered with objects - a slipper, a hat, an empty bag. "These are open objects," Karen says. "You can ask questions about them, get imaginations going."

She refers them to the handout, with its all-purpose template for stimulating and guiding the creativity of a class drama workshop. "You'll get something different each time. But the steps are always the same. You start with the warm-up.

"You introduce the creative trigger - a prop, picture, piece of music. You go on a journey - through a forest, in a bus, on a giant banana. You generate enthusiasm for leaving the everyday."

Details of the dramatic journey emerge by asking questions, she explains - who, what, why, where, how - and getting answers from the children. "You create conflict. You set problems to solve."

Time must always be left for the last stage of the journey, she says. "You have to bring the children back. If they have gone into space, you don't want wee astronauts wandering around for the rest of the day."

Drama should be special, not routine, she says. "Do an amazing drama workshop you've taken time to plan, organise and find resources for. Tell everybody. Put up a `Do not disturb' sign. We might not know the lines, the sets or the story yet. But this is a piece of theatre. No matter what age the performers are, that has to be respected."

Drama workshops and CPD for nursery, primary or secondary, delivered in schools or at SYT: www.scottishyouththeatre.orginvolvedcurriculum_for_excellence


A card, marked "invitation", and a couple of torches start one group on a journey to a mole's tea party.

They fill a flipchart with ideas, then something occurs to Jindy Fletcher from Caldercuilt Nursery School. "This seems very teacher-led. Don't we want it child-led?"

"You don't know how many ideas you'll get from the children," Karen replies. "You do this preparation so you can prompt them. If they are vocal and energetic, you can take creative risks. You have your own ideas, if you need them."

In another exchange, Karen notes. "You can't take all the ideas. You need to be the director. Take only contributions that shape the narrative."

"If we take an idea from one child, next time it's important to choose another," says Elaine Stables from Ruchill Early Years Centre.

"I learnt a lot," says Agnes Maley from Barlanark Family Learning Centre afterwards. "I got a method I can use any time now to draw ideas from the children."

Lesley Dunlop, creative links officer, Glasgow City, T: 0141 287 3605


"Light, spacious, contemporary and funky" is how events manager Mairi Hall describes the Scottish Youth Theatre building that so impressed the visitors. "It's the old Sheriff Court, done up and turned into this lovely space for us. We perform plays here and run classes for young people from three to 25."

With its bright foyer and modern theatre and dance studios, the venue is also popular for conferences, she says. "Companies and educational organisations meet here. It's so different from hotels. A nice feature is the courtyard, where you can be outside-inside.

"We have had school brass bands playing there. People hurrying along the Merchant City walkway would stop and look and listen. Last summer, student actors staged A Midsummer Night's Dream in the courtyard, set in the 1950s with white patio furniture. The sun shone. It was a gorgeous evening."

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