On Friday I went to a drama conference at The Garage in Norwich. There were teachers there from 35 Norfolk schools, as well as a few others from places like Iceland, Turkey and Norway. We are all taking part in Phase 5 of D4LC (Drama for Learning and Creativity).D4LC is a national school improvement initiative which gives teachers the chance to improve their drama teaching by working with drama specialists in the classroom, carrying out action research and networking and planning with other teachers.
I am really pleased to have been given this opportunity this year. A colleague and I are taking part, and another of my colleagues is a Leading Drama Teacher and will actually be mentoring other teachers from different schools.
We have identified reasons why we wanted this opportunity and what we hope to gain from it. Personally, I would really like to improve my drama teaching skills and do more of it! In my first 2 years of teaching, I taught drama to the whole year group in timetabled lessons and also ran an after-school drama club. However, I feel as if I have been doing less of it recently. Of course I do things like thought tracking, freeze frames, still images, conscience alley, forum theatre and things like that, but I haven’t taught a purely drama lesson for years. As one of the speakers at the conference said, “It’s like teaching football skills but never playing a match.”
So, the conference! First there was an amazing performance by Grassroots Theatre Company – really invigorating and exciting to watch! There was then an introduction by Patrice Baldwin and a keynote speech, which were both also very inspirational and got me chomping at the bit to get started!
I was lucky enough to have bagged a spot in the Grassroots workshop! It was all about exploring Fairtrade, equality and friendship. We started off by playing “Name Volleyball”. We had to introduce ourselves using big images such as “Ephson the Baboon”, “Patience the Ostrich”, “Amanda the Panda” and so on! (I picked Nikki the Writer. Not very exciting but I do like it!) Then we had to pass the ball across by shouting people’s names, and if you got it wrong you had to go in the middle and do a dance while everyone else sang a funny song!
After that we played “Coconut”. This is a stretching warm up where you spell out the letters of the word “Coconut” with your body. You could use any word – this was a fun way to get started and I think could be used well in any drama lesson.
We then had to take on different roles. First we were 5 year olds, then 8 month old babies, then someone whose team had won the World Cup, then a child with measles, then someone who had just arrived in Zimbabwe in 45 degree heat, someone arriving in the Arctic, then a woman in Africa trying to sell a basket of fruit so that she could send her child to school – growing increasingly desperate as time went on. This was quite challenging for me but I tried my best.
After that we went into groups of 10. We were to take on the role of members of a remote African village who had decided to grow sunflowers in order to change our lives. We had to discuss what we would need and make a plan. Things like water, seeds, tools, came up, then we started to discuss other things we would need like a fence, an area of land, a way to transport water, a way to sell the sunflowers, etc. It was very interesting and thought provoking as we realised exactly what a difficult job it would be. Then our task was to create a drama showing how we put the plan into action. Each group chose a different tack to do this. Ours involved a long chain representing the distance travelled, and a funny moment where we decided we needed manure, and one member of the group became a cow while a member of Grassroots took on the role of….the manure itself and got “shovelled” by rolling along the ground towards the seed! The laughter aside, we took away a very powerful experience of how much effort is involved in a real project of this sort. I can really see how this approach could be used. For example, last year I taught a series of lessons about sweatshops using stories about people who work in these factories. I can imagine the children would have been even more engaged in this topic had they been involved in some drama of this sort and realised the reasons why people have to take on work in factories like that.
After a very nice lunch, I went to my next workshop, run by Kate Fleming (who will be my mentor this year). It was all about the life of Vincent Van Gogh, and as she explained, this is a good way to explore the life of any famous artist, composer, or anyone really!
She first took on the role of an art historian and read us a summary of Vincent’s early life until he arrived in Arles in France. Some of us then had to take turns to sit on a chair in the middle of the room while the others completely ignored us, to show the theme of rejection. I had to sit on the chair, and it was awful – trying to make eye contact only for people to look away. Very powerful.
Then we were all assigned roles. I was in the village cafe and decided to be a regular customer. Other places were the sorting office where Joseph Roulin worked, the school where Camille Roulin was a pupil, the mayor’s office and the Roulin household. We enacted our busiest time of day, then our quietest time of day to help us get into role. Kate read us Van Gogh’s own description of himself from one of his letters home. She then took on the role of Van Gogh and arrived in town, and we had to react to his arrival as she passed us. We were then each given a different copy of one of his paintings to look at and discuss in role. As our characters began to warm to Van Gogh, Kate subtly kept us on track in a negative viewpoint by hinting that the people were not easily won over. She then toured the room again and we had to voice our thoughts about him.
We then made an improvised scene in which a member of the Roulin household came to each place (except the mayor’s office, where they were receiving complaints about him). Madame Roulin visited the cafe and we were very scornful and rude to her! We then polished our performances and improved them. Kate then became the narrator and told the story of his increasing rejection as she brought each of our scenes to life to illustrate each point.
Next we had to queue up outside the mayor’s office. The mayor’s assistant brought us in in turn and we had to explain our complaint about Vincent. This became faster and louder with each person adding to the complaints, echoing others’ complaints and discussing it amongst ourselves as our queue encircled the Roulin household.
At last the Mayor had to go into the Roulin house and confront Joseph Roulin about the complaints. We had to stand outside at first just watching but then we started to pass comment, and eventually to shout and berate them all saying they had to get rid of Vincent until at last Joseph shouted “All right!” and had to agree to the demand.
Kate then read out a short piece – “Of course, we all know how the story ends…” and explaining how he took his own life later.
Then Vincent took his last tour of the village and we expressed our feelings in role. “Good riddance. About time.” Then he finally passed the Roulin household and Madame Roulin called after him “Goodbye Vincent. I’ll never forget you…” It was very emotional and moving.
After this we were told we had new roles and we had to turn our papers over – they had been Blu-tacked to the table. On the other side were the names of art galleries! It was a nice touch that these other roles had been there right from the start yet we never knew! We were told we were in the Mayfair auction rooms and we were going to be bidding for the portraits of the family that the villagers had scorned earlier. We each got an envelope with our budget inside (we had to look up a currency converter to change it into £ first). This was secret! We had to decide which picture we would bid on and how much we would go up to. Kate told us that a recent portrait had sold for £42 million to give us an idea! We didn’t have time to do more, but in class the children would have researched their own gallery (we had the Prado in Madrid which I have actually been to which was helpful!).
The bidding war then began! We had decided to go for “The Schoolboy” and make sure we won it. After an opening bid of £2m from the Pompidou Centre, we went in with £30m and won! There was then a very exciting challenge for the 2nd picture, and in the final round it went crazy with the Pompidou striking up a deal with New York (6 months each with the portrait) to outbid the Tate!
2 amazing workshops and a lot of inspiration in one day, including an excellent display of picture books from Marilyn Brocklehurst and the Norfolk Children’s Book Centre. I am so fired up now and ready to get started! I’m going to start by booking out an hour each week in the music room (a lovely carpeted space in its own building out in the playground) for dedicated drama time. Sometimes it will be linked to the topic, sometimes a picture book or other stimulus.
Sorry this has been such a long post, but if you have read this far you will see what am amazing day I had! Writing about it here has made me realise just how much we did and reminded me how much I enjoyed it!