Virtual play for today's pupils
arts education charity WebPlay, which works with 100 primary schools in England to offer them drama via the internet, could soon be working with schools north of the border.
The WebPlay programmes allow children to work on creative pro-jects with theatre professionals and other schools. Pupils can link up with partner schools through a secure website and use creative arts to find out about each other's lives.
Children in rural Shropshire may be partnered with inner-city Birmingham pupils, or a Latino school in Los Angeles may be partnered with a school in Leicester.
Its executive director, Sydney Thornbury, would now like to introduce WebPlay to schools in Scotland. So primary pupils in Glasgow's Maryhill could soon be interacting with children in Manhattan.
Each year, WebPlay teams up with a theatre company. The children assume the role of "virtual assistant directors" and interact with the writer, director, cast and crew via the web, integrating technology with drama. The programme culminates in a trip to the theatre to see a play and participation in post-show workshops. Back at school, they create their own "web plays" about their partner schools - hence the charity's name.
Last year, the Scottish theatre group Catherine Wheels was involved. The Musselburgh-based company worked with 55 schools across England on its production of Lifeboat, based on a true story about two girl evacuees fighting for survival on an upturned lifeboat in the Atlantic.
"It was wonderful for us to work with such a progressive theatre company, and it also increases access and develops audiences for the theatre companies we work with," says Ms Thornbury.
After four weeks of learning internet skills and rules for web safety, children build their own web pages on Think.com, a secure learning site.
They then spend six weeks getting to know children at their partner schools, asking each other questions about their area and community. Eight weeks is then spent working with the theatre company, before they make a field trip to see the play performed live.
The final eight weeks is taken up with their own web plays, which are then performed, digitally recorded and uploaded to Think.com, so that partner classes can watch and give feedback on each other's work.
"The key to the project's success is that the children are so engaged due to the real-life aspect. They talk to real people online, talk to real artists, self-publish and so on," says Ms Thornbury. "They're having a great time, so it becomes very effective learning.
"For some schools it's a techno-logy project, for some it's an arts project, and for others it's a citizenship programme. The model's quite flexible.
"We don't want the internet to replace the live theatre experience. We want to use it as a tool so that the companies can develop audiences and increase their reach, and the kids can develop their theatre aesthetic and be more informed when they go to see a play."
She says the project also incorporates peer mentoring, the involvement of parents and an element of professional development for both the teachers and support staff involved in integrating technology with drama and creativity across the curriculum.
Catherine Wheels' producer, Paul Fitzpatrick, says: "The project really engages children, not just about a play but about the whole mechanism making a play. They have opportunities to ask questions of the writer, the director, the actors and the designer.
"It can generate links between children with very different experiences and give those young people access to learn, not just about theatre, but about each other."
A shorter, local programme, WebPlay Local, runs during the summer term.
Pupils are partnered with local schools to explore their own community.
They don't work with a theatre company but ICT and drama remain key elements.
"What interests us about working in Scotland is that there is quite a progressive approach to the arts as well as a huge diversity between schools in rural and urban areas," says Ms Thornbury. "A project that links the varied communities in Scotland and provides equal access is really exciting for us."