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STEP Festival Launch - July 2006
The Southwark Theatres’ Education Partnership (STEP) is a collection of projects - some year-long, others short term. Their aim is to stimulate and develop the creativity of the young people and teachers participating. There are over twenty companies involved, including The Old Vic, Shunt, Oval House, The Shakespeare Globe Trust, The Unicorn and the Southwark Playhouse.
The launch of the STEP Festival took place on 6 July 06 in the stunning auditorium of the Unicorn Theatre. The approach that was expounded banished any preconceptions that theatre is merely a form of light entertainment. Though most people in the theatrical world understand the importance of exposing young people to theatre, the STEP programme is taking drama in education a stride further.
Cecily O’Neill a respected author in drama and education quoted Einstein, that ‘all intellectual activity stems from the imagination’ - drama should be more than a creative extra on the curriculum, for it can assist learning immensely. Her hope is that it can be better utilized by teachers. She spoke about provoking young people to ask questions and how being able to articulate and express interpretations of the world helps to understand it - analysis and reflection is not only the job of artists.
Cecilia O’Neill addressed the pressing issue that creative programmes are quite expensive. She argued that in the long run ignorance costs far more. Malcolm Frederick, the energetic host of the launch, presented the statistic that there had been a huge drop in crime on the Stonebridge Council Estate after a drama group and youth club were introduced.
A short film fleshed out some of the ideas being offered. Fiona Hollingsworth, a primary school teacher in Southwark, is bringing theatre into the classroom with a programme called Drama Champions. The film depicted a series of lessons that involved story-telling, warm-up games, role-playing and freeze-frames, with the aim of helping children develop problem-solving skills.
STEP allows teachers to evolve and improve their methods, and provide constructive support to their students. It makes positive steps towards better teaching, rather than finding fault with the current lack of inspiration found in many Southwark pupils.
Among the speeches by those impassioned about theatre in education, were excerpts from groups of young people taking part in STEP. The London Bubble have made it possible for a group of 11-12 year olds to devise a piece about the transition from primary to secondary school called ‘Jump the Gap’. The skit was inventive and witty. The subjectivity of the piece made it clear that the world on display was the children’s own. Often adults writing for young people cannot block out their adult perspective, and cannot grasp the trials and worries of adolescence. ‘Jump the Gap’ demonstrated brilliantly how overwhelming changing school can be for a young person, and that there were many fears and uncertainties associated with it.
The piece performed by the children from NPV Arts was more familiar. They presented a scene and sang a song from ‘Ten in a Bed’, a musical about Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Although the piece was written, directed and choreographed by adults, and performed with military precision, the children seemed to enjoy their time on stage very much. What both projects had in common was that they were both produced for audiences of other children. NPV work from their own theatre. The London Bubble will be touring primary schools.
STEP does not claim to be a utopian ideal. The most impressive aspect of the evening was that it was a realistic and well-organised way of getting young people to talk to each other, and to adults. The evening was too full to describe all areas of the programme, but the through-line endorsed the importance of writing, theatre and creative storytelling in education. These techniques are proving to be invaluable tools in getting unresponsive pupils involved, in levelling those of mixed ability, in improving confidence, and in encouraging communication and reflection.
(c) Sara Pascoe July 2006
article subeditor - Sarah Shavel - 19 July 2006
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