Shaking Up Shakespeare Festival at Thredbo: Education Day on the Village Green. Friday February 16, 2001, 10am - 3pm.
As a social day for students on excursion to a beautiful sunny Thredbo, the day was a clear success. However I found myself agreeing with teachers Gai Britt and Mariette Daniels from Telopea Park School that educationally the experience was a little thin.
Also represented were Corryong Secondary College, Bombala High School and Snowy Mountains Grammar School whose teacher, Josh Levy, explained that his students studied Shakespeare in their English classes and were looking for learning about the production process to complement their literary study. As I discovered, indeed, few of the 90 students were taking Drama classes: many of those would have found the day fairly ordinary.
This was the first year "Education Day" has been part of the Thredbo Shakespeare Festival and several points need to be made if next year is to be better. Only one group was available to provide the professional input for the day, but - certainly if numbers attending are to build - a quality Festival needs to offer more variety. The Gartre Troupe is a company of recently graduated actors which has accreditation with the NSW Department of Education, basically providing work and exposure for actors at the beginning of their careers.
Their energy level, ensemble work and skills are high indeed, providing an excellent model for the students to aspire to, but their program (a brief introductory exercise in small groups about acting truthfully, a demonstration of rehearsing the opening scene of Taming of the Shrew, a performance of a shortened version of the same play, and a demonstration of Theatresports games with student input of ideas and some participation), which at first blush seems engaging, was not clearly structured to take the students from their normal conventional understanding of acting towards at least a beginning of experiencing the originality and creativity of professional theatre.
Probably the unexpected group of 5 - 9 year olds, brought along by brave parent Rowena Evans from Cooma Public School, gained the most by presenting their own drawings of the characters from the play as their way of thanking the performers.
The day also suffered from bad timing. A 10 am start for students arriving by bus from Canberra, Corryong and Bombala was never likely to work, and Gartre had to hold off for 30 minutes, had to shorten planned exercises and could not fit in a feedback sesion after the performance of a rather dark, perhaps even politically questionable version of Taming of the Shrew.
In fact fitting the trip into one day must have been very demanding of willing teachers. By expanding and developing the educational program, the Festival can gain a reputation to build on. As I saw the day this year, I would not deny the social value of the students' excursion, but I couldn't yet recommend it as quality education.
© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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