On the 25th of October, eighty-two year 11 students were invited by the English Department to attend the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-Upon-Avon in order to participate in a workshop based on the play “Macbeth”, part of their English GCSE course.
These workshops are delivered by RSC Education Associate Practitioners. They all have first-hand experience of RSC rehearsal room practice working either as actors, directors or theatre education specialists; so we were expecting a rewarding, educational and fun experience. We were not disappointed! The four hour long (or was it short?) workshop started with a short warm up mirroring the RSC practitioners: claps, jumps and funny sounds, lots of “sss-swords and ss-serpents and “ambit-tions” which encouraged the young people to really get involved and work as a team.
Here the key themes of the play were introduced: the destruction wrought when ambition goes unchecked by moral restraints; complete with temptation, damnation, salvation, guilt and ghosts… exciting stuff! Working as actors, students explored the plays in a practical way, unlocking language and characters just like the RSC do in their rehearsal rooms. Positioning on the stage, eye contacts, freeze frames; these and other techniques were explained to the students, who then tried them out. With lots of giggles and mini-performances, it made Shakespeare’s play approachable in a fun way, and the students were really getting involved. Sometimes the unfamiliarity of Shakespearian language can make plays like “ Macbeth” seem daunting and alien to students. It’s not always easy to see how amazingly accessible and relevant these works remain today.
At Stratford, it was soon obvious from the engagement of the students that the work of our English department, to make these historic plays speak to a young and modern audience, was being brilliantly reinforced. As the workshop continued, work focussed in more detail on the text; the language and key moments of the play. The emphasis was firmly on using active, exploratory and problem solving methods to bring the play to life for the students, and by now they were really getting their teeth into it. Building on what had gone before, once again they addressed Macbeth’s and Lady Macbeth’s soliloquies, unpicking the language and the subtle inferences of the writing. All too soon it seemed, four hours had gone by and the workshop session was completed. Overall this was a very valuable experience for the students. The workshop session was designed to deepen their knowledge and understanding of the play, help them develop close reading skills, and support them in their exam preparation. It succeeded in doing that; and not only that, everyone enjoyed themselves.
On a final note, congratulations must go to the 82 students involved for their excellent behaviour and the way they really engaged with the whole experience; they were a credit to themselves and SWA and Mrs Watt for organising and running the trip.