What is Theatre in Education?
Theatre in Education is a way of teaching in which acting, singing and dance is used. It gives the students a help aid in a relaxed and fun way. These pieces of theatre are educational so that the pupils learn and may allow them to learn things quicker by watching and engaging with the characters, music, dances in the production.
What is its purpose?
The purpose is to engage the intended audience and help them learn through a series of scenes which are easy to understand. They are based on what the children are learning about which is a good contrast between the written works and watching and learning. Theatre in Education is all about teaching children through an entertaining production which will then enable them to understand certain things in a different way to what they are used to which is an advantage because they will remember the show more so because they don’t usually have that advantage.
Which companies already operate in Theatre in Education? What do they produce? What learning materials do they use?
The Take Away Theatre Company
They are based around the theme of bullying to warn children of the consequences and what happens when you are bullied and how to prevent it. They also do pantomimes.
They are currently performing a piece called ‘Hope’. This is about a story of a beautiful and successful pop star returning to the town where she grew up for the first time in years. A chance encounter between her and an old school acquaintance brings back painful memories of her childhood and the systematic abuse and bullying she suffered at the hands of a classmate. It is a story of courage, self-empowerment and redemption.
The Take Away Theatre Company produce pieces that benefit the children educationally.
Hobgoblin Theatre Company
The hobgoblin Theatre Company are categorised into three parts. Key Stage 1, Key Stage 2 and whole school productions.
Here are a list of the previous shows that they have come up with and performed themselves:
Key Stage 1
- The Frog Prince
- Goldilocks and the Three Bears
- Hansel and Gretel
- Little Red Riding Hood
Key Stage 2
- ‘The curse of the mummy’s’ – Egyptian
- ‘Perseus and Medusa’ – Greeks
- ‘The Wall’ – Romans
- ‘The Workhouse Boy’ – Victorians
Whole School Shows
- ‘The History of Maths’ – Numeracy
- ‘The Greatest Fairy Tale Ever Told’ – Literacy
- ‘A Christmas Carol’ – Christmas
- ‘Treasure Island’ – Christmas
The HOBGOBLIN Theatre Company use plaques to interact with the audience members and also just to make things easier to understand. I think this is a really good use of material and it is something that we could look into doing for ours.
Big Brum Theatre Company
This website seems to be based on Theatre Company however I think it would be used for an older audience as to what we will be based on. For example, one of their productions are Macbeth and the speech is really difficult to understand as an adult, let alone young children wanting to learn more about the subject that they have been studying.
I have a friend of the family who writes new musicals so I decided that it would be a good idea to email him and ask him a few questions about how he writes these songs and directs others in order to gain tips for when I work in a group with the Musical Theatre students. Here is a screenshot of the email that I sent him for evidence that I have sent the email.
I have received en email back from Geoff and his thoughts and comments were really helpful. Here is the email copied below:
This is Jessica Last, Richard’s daughter. I was wondering if you would mind writing down a couple of answers to some questions that I have for a project that I am doing currently at college. I am composing songs, dances and scripts and I would really like some tips on how to do this and identify how people organise things to create a musical.
Would you please mind answering the following questions?
* What age groups do you create musicals for? Do you ever think about writing musicals for young children for keystages 1 and 2? If you were to compose a musical for an adult, what different choices do you make to show that you understand the different language and the children’s point of view?
I have created musical for a wide range of ages, from primary (aged 8 upwards), through to secondary school, and shows for young adults (18-21) and adults. There are various different considerations for different ages.
The first is finding a story / theme that is interesting (and of course appropriate) for that age group. Also a younger show would need to be simpler – both in terms of the language it used, and the music – but I like to write things that are going to be challenging – rather than assuming because they are children it all needs to be easy.
Another difference is playing to the acting strengths of different ages. So an older cast will be able to produce something with greater emotional intensity, but a younger cast can be better as doing things that are physical and fun – whereas sometimes adults (especially in the Amateur context) might feel a bit self-conscious doing something more like that…
*How do you get into the children’s heads when you compose something new?
It doesn’t feel so much of a leap. I think humour is really important, and thinking about what kind of things they are likely to find funny, but as it is going to be lots of adults watching it, it is trying to think about things that kids will perform that will make adults laugh. Also, there is something inherently silly about musical theatre (people randomly starting to sing and dance etc.) so there is always fun to had by playing this up a little, along with other conventions of theatre. It is always fun to take something quite serious (like The Odyssey), but poke fun at the things in it that seem silly. Again, this is a useful approach with things that are historical, and seem funny from our contemporary perspective.
*What materials do you use when you first come up with an idea for a new piece?
The most important thing to get right is the story, and then the concept – how you are going to tell the story. If you simply choose a good story, but have no particular concept – you can write something decent, but it won’t be particularly interesting or memorable. The concept addresses the question about what you are going to do to frame the telling of the story, to make it interesting, unexpected, memorable, unusual etc. Most good shows (for all ages) have more than a strong story, they have a strong concept for how that story will be told.
Once a I have the story and the concept then I like a really clear structure outlining all the main scenes needed to tell the story and where the major songs are going to be. At this stage you can check that the balance of things like solos, duets and choruses is right, think about where you will reprise songs that have been used earlier in the piece etc.
*How do you make a structure? What are your tips on how you come up with an idea? Do you write ideas on post-it-notes and then link them together to make a storyline?
Structure is really important. Once you have a good structure you have a list of songs to write, and a good starting point on what that involves. Then all is needed is to write one song at a time, and little by little you end up with a full show. Without the structure the task can seem overwhelming – and difficult to be sure you are going in the right direction. The very first show I attempted to write, I just started, and then got a long way into it before realising that there was quite a significant flaw with the way I had written it, and had to go back and rewrite a lot of songs that I really liked (and they never felt as good again although the show wouldn’t have worked as they were). Now I spend a lot of time planning the structure – apart from anything it really helps to crystallize the plot and the structure.
I often just do it on a computer, but sometimes I map it out on a big piece of paper. I usually do it over a period of time, as ideas do evolve, but usually the central concept and structural device come quite suddenly. The details take more time to work out, but the more time spent before you launch into the writing, the better.
*When you are directing a show that is aimed at adults, do you change the actors body position at all? For example, with a child you would have to talk down to them as that will involve them in the story and with an adult, they’ll be on chairs and so you would angle your head up rather than down so they can see your facial expressions.
I try to teach children as I would adults, as we are training them to work that way. I am not a very experinced director with adults (certainly not professional adults), so I don’t necessarily have the best approaches. I like to model a lot what I want people to do – whereas some directors would much prefer their cast to find their own way of doing something and might frown on too much direct modelling. This is how I would do it, but it might not work for them.
One of the biggest thing I find with children and adult amateurs is that they need pushing to make everything more extreme. Often (especially if the humour is parodying theatrical styles), to be effective it needs to be really overplayed to make the humour work (otherwise it looks bad rather than intentional).
However things that are meant to be genuinely emotional usually need to be played less rather than more. The trained actors I have worked with tend to know these things, and have no doubt had them drilled into them, so this is a quicker process.
*Do you know any working Theatre in Education companies that are doing well currently?
A friend of mine runs something called Keystage Arts that have done lots of projects in and around schools.
*How do you start working on a new idea?
Find the story that interests me, and find an interesting concept or approach. It really helps if there is an outlet. When I started I would just write stuff, not knowing what I would do with it, but now I write for a particular group and a particular performance, or sometimes write for particular people. This really helps with motivation (knowing I have an unpcoming deadline) but also knowing what that person’s strengths and weakness are. Also, writing for an individual helps to write something more characterfully strong, rather than just generic.
*Do you feel overwhelmed when you are writing new pieces?
If I have a good structure it nicely breaks up the large project into bitesize chunks, which is very helpful. But there is always a point when you start something new that is challenging. When it is just some ideas, the piece can be amazing in your head. As soon as you start writing, it is only as good as what you have written – so those first few bits are difficult, until you have written something you think is really good, and then that gives you confidence to keep going.
I have written enough now that I know I can do it, so it isn’t about waiting for the ‘inspiration’ or hoping I will have an amazing idea, it is about putting the time into it, and something will come. But there are certainly times when lots of other things feel a lot more appealing than getting down to the hard work. This is when have the pressure of an imminent deadline is really helpful.
*What is your favourite show that you have composed?
There are various pieces I am happy with. Probably my favourite is The Odyssey: An Epic Musical Epic. It was such a great cast, and we got loads of 5* reviews in Edinburgh – and everyone who saw the show loved it (where as some have a more mixed response), so I had families with young children who loved it as well as academics who had written articles / books on greek drama.
The main thing was the experience of doing it with that cast.
I would love to get another performance of this piece with a different cast – to see how it could be done differently.
*What should I look and be aware of when writing new pieces?
The main things are try and come up with a really distinctive idea for a story (there are so many boring ones…) and develop a strong concept for how you are going to tell that story, rather than simply telling it. Then, have a really good structure, and don’t rush too quickly into writing it. It is a balance, as when you are eager to start, don’t waste that enthusiasm, but if you sit down without a plan, and just begin, you may find you go wrong – and putting it right can be a time-consuming and frustrating experience.
Also, do whatever you can to get it performed (have something arranged in advance if at all possible). You learn a lot through writing something, but the whole experience of putting it together, completing it and then seeing others work on it, and then seeing in front of an audience and how they respond to it is more helpful than anything else.
*Do you have a method on how to write songs that works? Any tips that you could give to me?
Different approaches for different songs, but similarly to the whole show it is useful to have a mini-concept for each song. There are lots of generic songs out there, so find a way to write a song that is distinctive – even if dealing with a situation often addressed in musicals, like two people falling in love.
Once you have this, develop it into a memorable tag line – that might suggest other lyrics or a musical line. I write both the lyrics and the music, and sometimes write one or the other first, or both a bit at the same time…
*When you are creating characters do you base them on people you already know or do you make them up from scratch?
Usually I have a strong story line, so that is where the characters come from, but visualising who is going to play the part can help, or imagining someone you know (personally, or someone famous) playing the part, can help to solidify their character.
If you have any advice at all I would be truly grateful.
No problem – I hope it helps. If you know anyone who wants to perform one of my shows – let me know.
All the best,
In conclusion, personally I believe that a T.I.E project (Teaching in Education project) is a performance for young pupils from the ages 5-7 in Key Stage 1 and the ages 7 – 11 in Key Stage 2 to learn about certain topics that they are either struggling with or want to learn more about. But instead of asking the teachers for information, they are learning through taking part and or watching a performance based on that topic. A teaching in education performance also has a workshop afterwards which makes sure that all of the children are interacting and learning through doing certain activities that are provided. Providing the correct information and providing a safe environment for the pupils to learn, I feel that the teaching in education projects would benefit the schools and those who watch the performances.