Drama Masterclass: Teaching The Art of Empathy
There is an undeniable power in drama to reveal hidden truths about human nature.
The Drama Masterclass at Bede's Prep School has been carefully honed and crafted to help pupils access and express such hidden truths about themselves and, as the school's recent production of The Merchant of Venice proved, the institution is going from strength to strength.
As any theatre fan will know, there are no heroes and no heroines in The Merchant of Venice. It is a complex play in which the main characters are all flawed. Perhaps what fascinates us and has fascinated audiences for over four centuriesis that the play shows that we are none of us perfect, only human.
This is a theme that transcends time, peoples and place, a theme that presented the pupils of the Drama Masterclass with an interesting and demanding challenge this term - a challenge which they rose to with commendable enthusiasm and energy, learning long and complex speeches and memorising so many cues and entrances in quick succession.
"The Drama Masterclass was formed to give talented pupils in Years 7 and 8 at the Prep School the chance to develop their drama skills and interest in acting," says Jeanette Adams, who runs the activity.
"They produce one major play each year. In recent years, these have included A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Crucible and Private Peaceful."
Creating full-scale theatrical productions of such complex, expressly adult plays with such young casts is a considerable challenge, but one which Bede's teachers are keen to take on, however.
The proven benefits of drama education are many and well-known. According to the Department of Education, physical, emotional, social and cognitive development are all significantly boosted, with social awareness and sustained concentration being little-discussed additional positives.
"Drama enhances pupils' ability to express their ideas verbally and non-verbally," adds Gail Brundle, Bede's Prep School Head of Drama.
"People know that it improves voice projection, articulation of words, fluency of language and so on," she continues, "but it's easy to forget how playing characters in different situations, from different time periods and cultures, promotes compassion and tolerance for others' feelings and viewpoints."
But what makes Bede's Drama Masterclass productions so special? The talents of the children, according to Mrs Adams.
"Once unlocked, these abilities prove to be powerful catalysts in their development as people and the sense of trust in one another which the pupils develop is something which can change their attitudes forever."
This ability, to express and know themselves, and to step outside their own experiences and lives, is a source of constant inspiration to all at Bede's.
"These young people are particularly impressive in their commitment, enthusiasm and their almost professional dedication to their work," Mrs Adams continues.
"Not many twelve and thirteen year-olds would give up all their evenings and Saturdays for weeks on end to work on their Shakespeare! Credit has to go to them. It is not surprising that so many of them have won drama scholarships to senior schools, including Bede's Senior School and Fame in New York."
In terms of the cast for the recent performances, as any who attended will agree, Portia was elegantly played by Charlotte Bransby-Zachary and Rosa Witts, in partnership with Gilbert Warner-Bore's charming and passionate Bassanio and Isobel Beadle's gentle Nerissa.
Antonio's sadness was tangible in the sensitive performances of Theo Morse and Adam Gills and the extraordinary part of Shylock filled the stage through the outstanding portrayals by Charles Purbrook and Giles Kerr.
"The main characters were most ably supported by a large and talented cast, who fulfilled the challenge that they had been given," said Bede's Prep School Headmaster, Mr Nick Bevington. "They brought the play to life and reality."