Shakespeare400: The Children’s Shakespeare Festival

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I hate to be the one to break it to you, but Shakespeare is dead. Please do not weep – it’s not what he would have wanted! Instead, take a look at Shakespeare400, the general umbrella encompassing all things Shakespeare 2016 to mark 400 years since the Bard’s passing.

This year, The Lowry is a hub for a host of Shakespeare-inspired performances. We’ve had The Merry Wives and The Herbal Bed with Laila – The Musical, Hamlet and All’s Well That Ends Well also coming up in the year. In addition, The Birmingham Royal Ballet will return in September with a Shakespeare Triple Bill following their stunning Romeo & Juliet which they brought to us in early March. Not only do we welcome the wealth of acts above, The Lowry will welcome back the Children’s Shakespeare Festival for a fifth year. The festival, a North West Drama Services creation, was originally held at the Royal Exchange before branching out to The Lowry, Oldham Coliseum, Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse and the New Vic Theatre.

The Children’s Shakespeare festival assists teachers and pupils with drama-led learning in which they explore Shakespeare in the classroom. Finally they join together with up to 8 schools to showcase their play in the Lowry’s Quays Theatre. One of the biggest aims of the festival is to up-skill teachers. Around 80% of the participating primary school teachers will never have encountered drama as an educational tool before. Beginning with a two-day residential in January, the teachers are put on an intense course working to build their confidence in drama. By heading lessons with comfortable, well-equipped teachers, the children’s learning experience is enriched and the classroom-use of drama is given more longevity.

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The teachers learn as the children do. In one activity called “Story Whoosh”, the class arrange in a circle and the teacher reads the text at a rapid pace. Each character has a signifier: a cape/a hat/a skull, and every time that character is mentioned, a child has to run into the circle, and use that prop in a pose. This process is quick and the text is more ingrained in the memory which is more effective when you think of the time constraints on a lesson. It’s visual and physical, creating a more memorable consumption of information. North West Drama Services and The Lowry Learning and Engagement department work with schools on the process of learning through drama. The class begin with a literary reading of the text at a basic level and then move forward to drama.

One obstacle to teaching Shakespeare is the language. It turns out that 400 years ago, people were not speaking modern English. And Shakespeare liked to play with it too. So, you can forgive a 9 year old for not being entirely captured by the words. Some schools put a modern twist to their Shakespeare productions, one year saw a Jeremy Kyle-style piece while another included a Rocky montage. Shakespearean themes are still reflected in today’s pop culture, regardless of the language!

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North West Drama Services now provide a newly-added session on devising theatre. When the schools come to The Lowry for their final performance, the teachers will have had to put together all the work their pupils have made. Easier said than done. The technical team provide the schools with a pallet of lighting and sounds to choose from. The idea here is that the more professional the production is, the more engaged the pupils are.

Each class is given a focus, an aspect of the play to explore, which makes the final showcase with all the schools really interesting. We see each the individual and collective creativity of these children.

The schools involved in The Lowry Children’s Shakespeare Festival (20 & 21 June) and the Stockport Children’s Shakespeare Festival (12 & 13 July) are given full access to our Quays Theatre, providing an exciting conclusion to all their hard work.

Thanks to Emily Liddiard for her insight into the Children’s Shakespeare Festival and the Learning and Engagement department.


Written by Jamie Walsh