Jane Harris has been at Taunton for three years and has seen drama become a very popular subject in the school, with some 28 students studying it at A level and another 60 working towards GCSE in years 10 and 11.
JH: It’s quite a growth area. At one time drama was rather perceived as “find a space and be a tree”, and of course there’s a great deal more to it than that. What drama is wonderful for is teaching group work skills and that’s a skill for life – I’m always telling the students that. There’s also a lot of written work in drama, and this is great – it teaches them evaluation skills, and it makes them think about the social and historical context of the play. So for example we are studying, with the lower sixth at the moment, a play called ‘Playhouse Creatures’ by April de Angelis, which is based on the true story of the first actresses to go on stage after Cromwell, when Charles II came to the throne and opened up all the theatres – and this was a fantastic opportunity for women who had very little voice in society at the time. And what the students are looking at is how you can show this in performance, and how you can show that men went to theatre and weren’t really interested in women’s acting skills – they were interested in their bodies. And in their essays they need to show their understanding of how theatre worked and what a rotten deal women had.
IE: Do you take productions anywhere outside the school?
JH: Every year we take a group of the A-level practicals which we develop and enter for the local drama festival, and last year we won the youth section, so we qualified to go to the county final, which we won as well. And then we were invited to apply for the British all-winners’ final which we did, and we got accepted, and we won that as well. So we are currently British youth champions.
IE: And you go to Edinburgh Fringe?
JH: Yes, we always take a play up there. We take a group of up to twelve students, and they have to market their play. And that’s tough, you know – there are literally thousands – and I think that’s a huge learning curve for students, that and living and working together for a week.
IE: What are the main things it teaches them?
JH: Commitment, and about supporting each other and working as part of a team, and that it isn’t just about getting on the stage. It’s marketing, and it’s having the courage and the confidence to go up to people and say why they should come and see this show when there’s another five hundred on offer. And to get full houses, and to take criticism. You get reviewed by the reviewers, and theatre critics can be tough. So they have to learn to take the rough with the smooth. They have to learn to live as part of a small community, and to pull their weight. And they also have to pack up the van and set up the set and clear up the props and run around in the rain – you know, it’s a whole thing.
Edinburgh Fringe is just one of the ways we offer more. I’ve never worked in a school where they offer so much. I actually think, “I wish I’d been a student here.” We didn’t have anything like that when I was at school. It was just the “three Rs” back then.