Today, I have spent a delightful day in the company of around 250 children at the Gloucester Schools’ Partnership Shakespeare Festival. It is an annual event, comprising infant, junior and primary schools from around Gloucester who come together to perform a scene from a different Shakespeare play each year. Several schools perform together to make up the whole play, and each performance uses children of all ages. My school have been performing now for 5 or 6 years, and we absolutely love it. We made the decision to run an after school drama club for years 5 and 6, but other schools use this as part of their curriculum for a specific class, or offer it as a club across the whole school.
Having performed at the festival many times now, I am always incredibly proud of the children I take along. However, this year was a bonus year: my year 1 son, T, had joined a drama club at his school and was performing too. I was very surprised when he said he wanted to go along to the club, as he had cried during his Christmas plays for the past 2 years. However, I told him exactly what the performance would entail before he signed up, and he was adamant he wanted to go. T had several crises of confidence over the past few weeks, not least yesterday morning when he sobbed because he had changed his mind. So, as I sat at the University of Gloucestershire with my drama club, waiting for T’s school to arrive, I was not hopeful. I packed extra tissues in my bag to deal with the tears I was sure would come. But they didn’t. I saw an entirely different boy there today. He was confident, strong, and knew exactly what he was doing. I don’t think I have ever been more proud of him: the only tears that needed mopping up were mine (and his Granma’s). Watching him take a bow at the end was overwhelming. He has taken so much away from today: the pride he felt when he got to the end; the enjoyment of performing as part of the group; the knowledge that he can conquer his nerves (I never did ask him who in the audience was wearing frilly pants – that was going to be his coping mechanism!). Massive life skills. But just as importantly for me, a new love of Shakespeare.
A couple of nights ago, T asked to get our “Complete Works of Shakespeare” down from the bookshelf to find his part of the play. Then mine. Then the rest of the play. Then I caught him reading the contents and looking at the names of other plays. Tonight, he was asking what other plays we had seen and when he could go and see something. T is a prime example of why this festival takes place – to instil a love of Shakespeare in our young children and to make them realise that the language he used is not anything to be scared of. Admittedly, there would have been words that T didn’t understand, but after talking to him about the play, I was left in no doubt that he knew exactly what was going on. Most of the audience were left feeling a bit befuddled and confused (“The Comedy of Errors” isn’t the easiest of stories to follow at the best of times, without the added bonus of 5 different groups of children acting it out in completely different ways!), but the children knew exactly what was happening. I was asked this week if I thought the Festival would move away from performing Shakespeare. I’d imagine not: it was introduced by the Royal Shakespeare Company years ago, and, while their involvement lessened over the years, there is talk of them becoming more involved again. I certainly hope so: the training they provided initially was fantastic, and gave teachers a huge bank of ideas of way to bring the plays to life for children of all ages. I love the challenge that performing Shakespeare with children brings. I love the way that they continually rise to that challenge. And I love the way that they are learning to love Shakespeare.
While I am looking forward to having a break for a while, I am certainly looking forward to finding out what next year’s festival will bring.