The Children Merely Players

Stanley Park by CJGriffiths

Blackpool’s Grand Theatre has recently embarked on two long-term partnerships with the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) via their Engagement and Learning strand of work. They are one of the organisation’s Learning and Performance Network (LPN) partner venues and on Thursday 25 June at Stanley Park we will see the first public showcase from students who have been involved in this project.

Through the LPN, the RSC works with schools to bring about a change in the way young people experience, engage with, and take ownership of Shakespeare. It offers teachers and practitioners postgraduate training in Shakespeare and provides students with dynamic opportunities to connect with Shakespeare. Since 2006, the LPN has been supported by a rigorous programme of research which has found that by introducing this way of working to the classroom it can have a direct positive impact on aspects such as literacy attainment and personal and social development.

The RSC’s First Encounters production of The Taming of The Shrew, which played at the Grand Theatre as well as Montgomery High School last year, was the first part of this relationship. Since then, teachers from schools across Blackpool have been participating in RSC training activities and students have been getting to grips with the language and stories of Shakespeare in practical and active ways.

The schools involved are: Montgomery High School, St George’s High School, St Mary’s Catholic Secondary Academy, Park Community Academy Special School, Anchorsholme Primary Academy, Marton Primary Academy, Our Lady Primary School, St Cuthbert’s Catholic Primary Academy and Thames Primary Academy.

Students from all nine of these schools are exploring a range of plays including Hamlet, The Tempest, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Othello and Richard III and will be producing short performance pieces in response to the theme of War and Conflict in these plays. The results of this will be seen in a variety of locations at Stanley Park on Thursday 25 June. The theatre’s Engagement and Learning team hope that there will be good public support of these students’ performances.

As part of this relationship, Blackpool, with the support of Curious Minds, is also piloting a wider involvement with Arts Awards. All students will take part in the nationally recognised certification process run by Trinity College whose mission is to support young people in deepening their engagement with the arts. The RSC have developed a special Shakespeare Challenge at all levels of the award and students will be embarking on creating their Explore or Bronze Level portfolios which will help them to capture and reflect on their involvement in the project.

With one eye on 2016 and the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death resulting in a range of celebrations of the achievements of our national writer, the team at the Grand Theatre have also embarked on a second three-year relationship with the RSC with a cluster of schools in Wyre. These schools will be involved in the high profile Dream 16 project where a nationwide tour of A Midsummer Night’s Dream will involve, in every location, Bottom and the Rude Mechanicals being played by a local amateur group and Titania’s fairy train by local schoolchildren. Watch this space for more details as they are confirmed.


Featured image by C J Griffiths Photography.

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    Melanie Whitehead is the Creative Director of The Old Electric, Blackpool's newest theatre. She previously worked for the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre.

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