Bradford College concluded its second year as a Royal Shakespeare Company Lead Associate School with a trio of events that have seen more than 120 young people from schools across the city take part in performances of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
In June students from the College joined with pupils from Baildon Church School, Feversham Academy, Low Ash Primary School, The Skipton Academy, St Bede’s and St Joseph’s Catholic College and Titus Salt School to perform a specially edited version of the famous tale of star-crossed lovers in Saltaire. The production was performed to an audience of more than 250 people in the huge loom shed at the iconic Salts Mill.
The students at Salts Mill
Each school took a section of the story and interpreted it in their own way. There were some lovely moments where the young actors from each school ‘handed over’ the main characters whom they shared. There was live music, too, provided by the Baildon Church School rock band. The whole piece was brought together on the day and proved to be a wonderful and moving experience for the audience and players alike.
Susan Adams, lead drama teacher at Baildon Church School said: “Never underestimate the power of the performing arts to boost every child’s self-worth and confidence. Hearing our students speaking Shakespeare’s language so eloquently and making it their own has been wonderful. Sometimes I forget that they are only 10 years old and not actually members of the Royal Shakespeare Company!”
Two days later, two ESOL students from Bradford College attended the inaugural meeting of the RSC Youth Advisory Board which has been created to give young people an active role in shaping the ways in which the Company engages and communicates with young people. Krystina Vavrova and Hareth Alshaban, who are RSC Shakespeare Ambassadors at the College, were selected to take part after attending a training event with members of the RSC Education team last year. In January this year, they were in Stratford upon Avon for a further event where they were given the brief to review the ways in which the arts benefit the lives of young people. Working with Jacqui O’Hanlon, Director of Education and Erica Whyman, Deputy Artistic Director, Deputy Artistic Director, they collaborated with 20 young people from all across the country to design a series of ‘calls to action’ using a range of media platforms. ESOL lecturer, Esther Wilkey, accompanied the students on the trip and was able to see them working with the other students.
Bradford College students who are RSC Shakespeare Ambassadors
At the start of July, eight young people from Bradford performed as part of the RSC Playmaking Festival at The Swan Theatre in Stratford upon Avon. These actors were selected from the young people who had taken part in the performance in June. Two students each from Skipton Academy, St Bede’s and St Joseph’s Catholic College, Baildon Church School and Bradford College came together to form a new company and were given a section of Romeo and Juliet to perform alongside young people from other parts of the country.
Vanessa Adams, head of Performing Arts at The Skipton Academy, said: “This is the first time that the two students from Skipton have visited Stratford and to build such a close bond with people that they have just met has been a delight to witness. The look of excitement on their faces when they were told that they had been selected to take part in the project was matched today when they walked into The Swan Theatre for the first time.”
With a very short rehearsal period, there was a lot of pressure to get things ready in time. The young people rose to the challenge and, under the direction of Julia O’Keeffe, Learning Co-ordinator for Bradford Theatres and a freelance practitioner with the RSC, they gave a fantastic performance.
Julia said, “It was lovely to finally get the whole cast together in Stratford and to build on the work we had already done in the individual schools. The pressure acted like an incentive to really focus on the dynamic of the group. The performance that they gave was truly amazing and looked like they had been rehearsing together for weeks. This demonstrates the power of the language and the determination and dedication of the young people. Drama allows these miracles to take place.”
Bradford College has been involved in the Associate Schools Programme since 2017 and is the first Further and Higher Education College in the country to be awarded Lead Associate status. In that time the College has worked with twelve schools across Bradford to engage more than 2000 students with the works of Shakespeare. Lecturers from the College have also led training sessions for teachers to give them the confidence to teach Shakespeare using the same techniques that actors do in the RSC rehearsal room. The impact of the work is not just on Drama or English. The techniques are transferable and can be used to support many areas of the curriculum.
Damien O’Keeffe, who has led the RSC Associate Schools Programme at the College, said: “The relationship that we have with the RSC and Bradford Theatres is a very important one and one that has had a huge impact on the education of young people in Bradford. The skills that the young people learn through being involved with this project are truly transferable and go far beyond performing on stage or preparing an answer on an English test. I have seen some truly remarkable transformations in some of the young people we have worked with over the last two years. Working in this way builds confidence, problem-solving skills, teamwork, curiosity, respect and empathy, all vital skills in the workplace and wider world. The students get to discuss some very pertinent and sometimes tricky issues in a way that they can’t do in a standard classroom lesson. Discussion, debate and critical thinking are all important parts of the process when working in a rehearsal room and they are just as important in school.”
The relationship with the RSC has offered more than just acting opportunities. Nine students from the College have been able to gain work experience with the Company via the Next Generation project which gives young people the chance to find out about the many offstage and backstage roles that support the onstage work. The scheme has seen students work at The Other Place in Stratford upon Avon as well as in various technical roles with the company of Matilda the Musical when it toured to the Alhambra Theatre in the Spring.
Bailay Illingworth and Ellen O'Keeffe who took part in the RSC's Next Generation:Act project