Bringing theatre alive at Shakespeare birthplace

Ruth Peterson | December 1, 2021

Eight students have travelled to Shakespeare’s birthplace to help bring a magical theatre production to life.

The Bradford College students, aged between 16 and 18, are in Stratford Upon Avon this week. There, they will participate in the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC)’s New Generation Backstage programme. As part of this, they will be producing a scene from the comedy  Much Ado About Nothing.

The most amazing feeling

Ramin Malai, Qaraman Saidzada, Rabaa Mohamed, Yanal al Efeishat, Adriana Terkelova, Aisetu Bokum, Ahmed Qadir and Wigdan Elagib are all studying English for Speaker of Other Languages (ESOL) at Entry 3 and Level 1. Entry 3 tutor Esther Wilkey uses Shakespeare’s plays and employs techniques used by RSC actors in her lessons to bring English to life. She said: “They are so excited. It is the most amazing thing, walking into that theatre environment and becoming part of the whole process. It’s a lovely atmosphere.”

Next Generation Backstage is an RSC programme giving talented young people from disadvantaged backgrounds the chance to explore a career in theatre through stage management, directing or working backstage.

New career opportunities

Each member of the group will be working in a different department: lighting, sound, scenery, props, costume, stage management, front of house and marketing. Through this they will discover more about the career opportunities available in theatre. The RSC has funded travel and accommodation for the trip. Students also attended the RSC’s Christmas production of The Magician’s Elephant. The students paid special attention to the backstage work that has made this play such a huge hit.

The college’s ESOL department has worked with the RSC for many years. The college set up Shakespeare Club, in which teachers use RSC pedagogy and immersive techniques. RSC actors use these to facilitate student progress. In class, they use warm up techniques to improve eye contact, work as a team and look to each other for cues. They pick out key scenes from plays such as The Taming of The Shrew and The Merchant of Venice. They also develop delivery techniques for each line and create a performance.

Sharing experiences

The classes taught in ESOL include 16-18-year-old refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants. As part of Shakespeare Club, students have visited theatres, learnt about venues’ history. They have also taken part in workshops and performed in plays. Some have even won awards.

In October three ESOL students took part in a performance of A Drop in the Ocean at the Alhambra Theatre. The show was formed from extracts of The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare. Several ESOL classes attended the show and were impressed by the performance of fellow students.

Level 1 and Entry 3 16-18 year old ESOL students and a 19+ GCSE English class also attended the RSC’s touring performance of A Comedy of Errors. They each participated in class workshops to prepare them to understand the plot. Esther said: “There have been adult learners aged 19 plus who said this was their first experience of theatre. Even though they didn’t understand all of the language, they understood the story. They were amazed at the entertaining and energetic performances. They had never dreamt of being able to go to the theatre and said that it has been a highlight of their time so far in Bradford.

“It has helped them to understand where our language has come from and how it has evolved. Shakespeare has added more than a thousand words and phrases to the English language.”

Exploring words and emotions

In the pre performance workshop, students explore words and emotions to help them begin to understand the script. In A Comedy of Errors, the word ‘ocean’  created an interesting discussion. One student related in to  “freedom”, another, who had come to the country as a refugee, recounted how they had been on a boat for days, afraid they would never see land again.

As well as encouraging them to share experiences, Esther described how the ongoing partnership with RSC and the Alhambra Theatre supports students to embrace new opportunities. Hareth Alshaban, a former Bradford College student, became a member of the RSC Youth Advisory Board.

Hareth even played Romeo in a stage production of Romeo and Juliet. This was part of his work towards his Bronze Arts Award, part of the Start programme run by the Alhambra Theatre. He visited Liverpool to see Blood Brothers, to support his ESOL studies. He enjoyed the city so much that he is now at Liverpool University studying politics. Hareth continues his work with the RSC Youth Advisory Board.  

 ESOL at Bradford College

If you are aged 16-18, have moved to the UK from another country and would like to continue your education in Britain then ESOL 16-18 is the perfect course for you.

This is a full-time, comprehensive, language-based programme designed to help with the transition between studying in your home language and studying in Britain. Alongside English, taught from Beginner level to Advanced level (Level 1), you will be able to study Mathematics (Functional Skills, GCSE or A level), IT and a variety of additional subjects all of which have English specialist support.

Find out more at https://www.bradfordcollege.ac.uk/courses/course/english-for-speakers-of-other-languages/

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