The Trench – perspectives

By Meg Allin, 6.2, Drama Don and The Trench Assistant Director

We have spent the last three months working on The Trench for only three hours a week. Working with Head of Drama Hayley Ager (who directed the production) and the rest of the cast has been a pleasure. It has been understandably difficult at times, but we have enjoyed and overcome the challenges we have faced.

As Assistant Director, I have worked in casting and rehearsals while Hayley has tirelessly worked on stage design with Joanne, organisation, all the admin and the nitty gritty that goes with Theatre Production. We are very proud of what our cast has achieved; the physicality and vocal work of the piece is challenging and we pushed them all very hard to get it right.

There has been energy in every rehearsal and the piece has come together so beautifully because of that. The words of Oliver Lansley have been brought to life by the ensemble of 30 people, with Samuel Vernor-Miles as our ‘diamond in the rough’, Bert.

By Hayley Ager, Head of Drama and The Trench Director

We were approached by Petersfield council about what we as a community could do to commemorate the centenary of the end of World War One. It was a wonderful opportunity to choose something suitably different to direct for this year’s Whole School Show and a challenge to pick from the wealth of war based literature as a starting point.

I have always been drawn to Oliver Lansley’s creative writing style and his physical theatre creations for his company, Les Enfants Terrible. The Trench is no different – an epic poem, written to be performed by five actors with contemporary music and puppetry. This gave me the perfect stimulus to create our own Bedalian version of this story and Oliver generously gave me express permission to change what I wanted within his words!

Our version includes three choruses to deliver the tale, so the lives of those at home are presented alongside the soldiers fighting in the trenches. An underworld chorus have also been created to tell the part of the story where Bert goes on his Grecian quest. The puppets are instead creations of the cast and the collaboration with Doug to add classical music seemed the perfect complementary aid to this timely tribute.

The end creation is something uniquely ours, with a stunning set, costumes that transport us into the trenches and performances that beautifully and appropriately show the weight of what these young students are performing – a homage to the tragedies suffered and the effect it had on all involved.

On a personal note, I would like to thank the cast for their diligence, sensitivity and passion throughout this project, Meg for her assistance in the direction, Doug for his musical contribution and Joanne, as always, for designing beyond what I could have imagined. The assistance from colleagues and students meant even more this year with my two extra members on board!

By Samuel Vernor-Miles, 6.2 and Bert in The Trench

I’ve had the honour over this past term of playing the role of Bert in this Whole School Production of The Trench. Behind the scenes, us members of the cast have worked ourselves harder and harder each week, but have also grown closer and stronger as a result of it, just in time to deliver this Christmas performance.

Personally, from having worked with every group in the cast (from the soldiers, to the families left at home, to the demons in the underworld), I know that every single one of us has put so much effort to bring the world of The Trench to life.

It’s been a fun experience and I’ve been very lucky to work on another fantastic school production. It feels very sad to be my last one, but I wish the cast of next year’s show the best of luck knowing it will be just as brilliant and I know they will have just as much fun as I have had working on this show.

New Views playwriting enrichment

By Oscar Clark, 6.1

During our Monday morning New Views enrichment session, we had the pleasure of working with playwright and poet Deborah Gearing.

Deborah led us in three main writing exercises. Firstly, we each described our journey from our bed to the session, each with a different focus on a particular sense, mine for example was smell. This really opened our eyes to the different sensory perspectives you can use to give a new scope on events, beyond the standard focus on sight.

The second exercise was very much a continuation of this one, with the addition of a new context, all of us writing a statement given to officials by a victim of the wildfires happening in California. This more concrete foundation for the writing proved challenging, it being difficult to get into the mind-set of the kind of character who has gone through this kind of event, but, with direction from Deborah, we formed some believable statements, each with a very interesting and different narrative perspective.

After this we experimented with the creation of characters, using a chosen photograph as the inspiration for a character then having to make up responses to questions Deborah asked us, thus turning a photograph into a three-dimensional human being with a backstory and ambitions. We repeated this exercise and were left with two characters of different backgrounds, eras and ages but both being fleshed-out tools for the concluding exercise. We tried to bring the two characters together in a scene, in doing so breaking the rules of time and space, and create some kind of conversational interaction between them.

It was an extremely beneficial session, giving the five of us firstly, an insight into challenges that face playwrights, but more importantly an insight into the techniques they use to overcome them. On behalf of myself and my classmates, I would like to thank Deborah for her help. We are all looking forward to our second session after Christmas.

 

Sixth Form Show perspectives

Bedales Sixth Form Show 14th October 2018 (Photographer Jack Offord)-7703

By Hayley Ager, Head of Drama and Liz Wood, Head of Dance

We welcomed Temper Theatre Company this autumn as a company in residence to collaborate with Bedales and work with students who successfully auditioned to be part of the Sixth Form show. Their combined work, the physical theatre piece Kin, was performed prior to half term. Certain students will then be reworking this into a performance to tour around schools in Dubai in the upcoming exchange trip which Liz is running as part of the enrichment programme. We are incredibly proud of the students for their professionalism and engagement in the project which really saw them, as in real life, devising an original piece of physical theatre as a company. We were also very impressed with the company whose artistic vision, passion and devising skills were the perfect combination for our talented students and what he had in mind for this project.

By McCauley Fischer, Putney Exchange Student

The Sixth Form Show was full of many types of talent and creative choices. The audience entered a theatre filled with a thin layer of fog from a smoke machine, while live music played until the house lights dimmed for the start of the show. The fog allowed for a unique use of light to represent technology and a range of other things from mood to large amounts of water. The show, which centred around inhabitants of a town where a dam threatened to overflow, touched on themes of human connection with the earth and each other as well as communication. It conveyed how technology effects these things, at times showing a light-hearted reality and at times a harsh one. I found the physical theatre very convincing which fully immersed me into the story.

The main group of friends in the story had a similar effect for me because of the convincing portrayal of genuine friendship and excitement by the actors. I felt like they could be kids in any town that anybody in the audience could know. This was a device used throughout the show; the universalness of the characters and their behaviour was effective in getting me invested. The live music throughout the show by some incredibly talented sixth formers really brought it all together and made the show. It was a fun and thought-provoking evening of entertainment.’

By Eben Macdonald, Block 3

I believe that the meaning of the Sixth Form Show, Kin, is that humanity is forever arrogant and ignorant and that social media and this common sentimental social dependence which many people have is damning to society.

This is because the people in the play are constantly warned by the Public Service that there is an imminent breakage of the local dam, which will cause severe flooding and will be very serious. However, they frequently ignore these calls. There is a scene where, during a loud and exuberant party someone receives a call, but because of the noise they are unable to hear it. They even say dismissively over the phone, “Sorry, I need to get back to my friends”, which I feel conveys how damning this social sentimentality is. They could have heard that call and reacted, but they were too busy partying.

Also, a significant feature of the play is that the characters are frequently buried in their phone. During the play there are scenes of impressive choreography where the characters are looking straight at their phones. This, I feel, is meant to convey how social media consumes us, dominates our lives, and how depressingly addicted to it people are. Wherever the characters move, even when the movement is complex and choreographic, they’re buried in their phones.

When the dam at last breaks, there is a long scene showing the characters drowning, grabbing each other, thrashing about and being tossed around as the city is inundated. After that there is a scene that shows a few friends enjoying a flippant and sentimental conversation, of course on their phones. This, I feel, shows that humanity is arrogant and will never learn from its mistakes, as if they had not been so devoted to social media, they might have saved themselves.

New season for Bedales Events: Autumn 2018

By Amanda Brewer and the Bedales Events team

Kate Adie is a news correspondent and a household name, having reported from disasters and conflicts around the globe throughout her 35-year career. Simon Armitage is an award-winning poet, playwright and songwriter.

What do they both have in common? They are both visiting us at the Bedales Theatre in Steep as part of the new season of Bedales Events.

The Flop

The autumn programme of events, which includes speakers, dance, drama and music performances, kicks off on 11 September with The Flop: a slightly rude, hilarious slice of clowning silliness set in Paris in 1650, where impotence is illegal and a member of the aristocracy is accused of being less than upstanding.

Simon Armitage

Simon Armitage then comes to Bedales on 13 September to read from a range of his work and take questions from the audience. If you haven’t already booked, be quick – demand has been high and only a few tickets remain.

Bullish

On 19 September Milk Presents bring you BULLISH: a new mythical play with songs, negotiating ancient and new territories in trans-masculine gender and identity. Milk Presents’ work has had a real impact on the British arts scene and at Bedales it will undoubtedly make its mark on the Petersfield community.

Tabby McTat

A special production of Tabby McTat, suitable for children of all ages, brings the month’s offerings to a close on 30 September. Based on the book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, this is the heart-warming tale of friendship and loyalty, interwoven with original songs.

Kate Adie

Later in the season comes the musical A Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad), the drama productions of Enter the Dragons and Brilliance, music from the James Taylor Quartet, dance from Company Chameleon – as well as that talk from Kate Adie.

All of these touring performances are in addition to the Homegrown productions delivered by Bedales students.

Further information about all Bedales Events, together with booking information, can be found on the Bedales Events website.

A Necessary Woman – ‘No Vote, no Census’

Big Slider A necessary woman Poster image front

By Ollie van Hoeken, Bedales student

After teaching us about the context of the characters and events in the play in Jaw, Deborah Clair and Philippa Urquhart headed over to the theatre to prepare for their touring show.

The plot of the play is how Emily Davidson and ‘necessary woman’ Mary meet in the cleaning cupboard, and discuss their views of the suffragettes. Emily Davidson, a historical suffragette famously threw herself under the King’s horse for the right of women to vote. The character of Emily has come to disrupt the House of Commons meeting after the 1911 census.

The minimalist set created an intimate atmosphere and the use of recorded voice and sound of bells and the master, made the scenes focussed. With clear temporal shifts, the characters’ stories unfold; the audience can realise the irrelevance of class and age in an unlikely friendship. In this play Emily plans to address the House of Commons, however in 1911 she failed and this play gave the audience a rare chance to hear her voice.

Through the character of Mary, we see what life was like for women in the lower classes. She considered it lucky to keep her job after having given up her baby for adoption, this moment of saddening confession provided clear juxtaposition from Emily’s speeches of power. Mary made it clear that this was not uncommon for women of the time. By the end of the evening the audience took away a clear message: women have fought for the right to be equal and society has made huge leaps but there’s still a long way to go. This topic is still relevant today, but shown in a historical setting we see the similarities in prejudice.

Scripted and devised: theatre at its best

Bedales Theatre 22nd April 2018 Web Res-5335 (Large)

By Meg Allin, 6.1

On Tuesday and Wednesday the 6.2s performed their devised pieces. Often when people enter the Bedales Theatre they see plays with many possible interpretations, which are usually hard-hitting, and these plays were no exception. To start we walked to the lake and saw two ‘women of the lake’ attack, seduce and murder a Vicar fisherman.  It included a lot of deeply rooted sounds and voices that no average actor could conjure up. The real fire, hellish music, bleeding heart and misty lake made for an atmospheric piece.

Next, back in theatre, a funny but truthful portrayal of gender inequality and double standards, featuring a lot of modern pop culture references such as Trump, Harvey Weinstein and Jimmy Savile which made the comedy more shocking; a moment that struck me was strong modern women being objectified as “bossy” and men as “tough”.  This contrast raised a lot of questions among the audience about the play’s message.

A homely set was then constructed with a sofa, lamp and beanbag, following an emotional and physically meticulous piece made for a detailed telling of two lovers and their journey of nostalgia and “gut love”; this saddening but captivating piece showed us love in its most pure state, the internal world of the two men was complex and yet beautifully portrayed.

The penultimate piece featured three women in wedding dresses exploring ways that people and society handles sexual assault and rape, done with sensitivity and poise.  The three pulled off a clear, montage style piece including how to keep you ‘safe’ in a car park or on a flight.

To finish off the night, a group of butterflies graced us with singing, cling film and berries, the childish aspects ironically calmed the madness of the piece. The three created scenarios that depicted stages of a woman’s cycle, while integrating an interesting butterfly metaphor throughout. On top of all this the 6.2s have also been performing their scripted pieces, which they performed on Tuesday. A very impressive display of skill and innovation, anyone who didn’t see these plays really missed out on something special. View photos

 

“Most successful yet” Bedales Dance Performs

BEDALES DANCE MARCH 2017 PB (39)6F7A7196

By Anastasia Sheldon, 6.2

Dancers across all the year groups came together on Thursday 9 March to perform an evening of eclectic dance pieces at our most successful Bedales Dance Performs yet.

The Block 4s made their first BAC appearance with ‘Hunted’, showing animalistic movement intertwined with energetic throws and lifts, showing real control and trust in each other. Block 5s choreographed their very own solos based on iconic choreography and group pieces inspired by topics they are studying across other subjects in school. Some of the dance pieces were examined that evening and a huge well done to everyone who was being moderated.

As for 6.1 and 6.2 dance students, we performed our own solos and group pieces in preparation for our exam in a few weeks, using students across all ages and some students that do not even study dance. The show closed with the 6.1 and 6.2 Enrichment piece ‘Shattered Minds’, where during our enrichment slot we worked together to create a sensitive piece showing how a group of survivors started their fight to build their community up after a natural disaster.

What an amazing evening to be a part of, the adrenaline was flowing back stage throughout all the pieces. I can speak on behalf of all the 6.2s when I say that we have thoroughly enjoyed performing in every Bedales Dance Performs, we will miss the buzzing atmosphere backstage, everyone we have worked with and the pure support that all the students have for each other.

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Charge: OB’s theatre work post-Bedales

Charge - Eve AllinBy Phil King, Director of Drama, Dance and Bedales Arts Programme

It was with a great sense of pride in recent Bedales drama and theatre studies graduates that I went to see Eve Allin’s play Charge performed at University of Warwick over the long leave weekend.

When here at Bedales, as drama Don, Eve won a major award at the National Student Drama Festival for reviewing live theatre and acted in, wrote, directed and assistant directed wonderful work while she was here.  Eve was a student who made the most of the panoply of theatrical options on offer here and Charge itself was part of the National Theatre New Views enrichment course.

The National Theatre said of Eve’s final draft that it was “a play with a great sense of the visual dimension, playing with fire and light both literally and metaphorically” and this excitement was captured in a converted Chemistry lecture theatre for the recent staging.  Seeing Charge as part of the week-long festival, Fresh Fest, offered me a chance to witness the energy, passion and drive great universities and great university students have for their subjects.  In an age where finance seems to sadly dominate most discussions about higher education watching a focussed army of directors, producers, technicians, actors and writers put on eight plays (that had to win a competition even to get to that point, selected by other students running the societies behind the scenes) was hugely heartening.

Even more heartening was watching Eve not only holding her own but being master of her world as a sharp-elbowed and highly knowledgeable first year (who is having to be highly selective of her drama courses to avoid repetition of the grounding she received whilst with us).  Well done Eve, from all of us.  We very much look forward to you making your mark, first on Warwick and then beyond.

Space and Time explored via theatre

 

By Jamie Murphy, 6.2, Drama Don

Inspired by their stimulus of ‘Space and Time’ Block 5 students recently performed their BAC devised pieces and the two groups took radically different paths.

The first piece, after looking at the David Bowie song Space Oddity, was an exploration of addiction, mental illness and loss, while the second investigated the lives of the astronauts that walked on the moon after looking at the book Moondust.

While both groups utilised physical theatre and naturalism to explore their themes, their narrative styles were markedly different. The first group devised three distinct vignettes that shared themes, while the second group chose to present a more linear narrative, seen through the eyes of the interviewer (who wrote the biographical novel) who witnessed the moon landing on television.

Both groups’ ingenuity, theatrical awareness and talent were clear throughout their pieces, which were evidence of how interesting and distinct devised pieces can be, even when ostensibly based entirely on the same stimulus.

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Mental Health and Arts Education – are we missing a trick?

By Phil Tattersall-King, Director of Drama, Dance and Bedales Arts Programme

Hot on the heels of the Prime Minister announcing that the government is to reform mental health with a particular focus on young people, a new report from the Culture Learning Alliance (CLA) has confirmed that taking part in arts subjects can help children to improve their academic and social skills, and to express their ideas. On the face of it, these are pretty much distinct events, but I would argue that perhaps they shouldn’t be.

One in four people has a mental disorder at some point in their life, and young people are affected disproportionately; over half of mental health problems start by the age of 14 and 75% by 18. To this end, the government is to provide additional training for teachers, an extra £15m for community care, and improved support in the workplace. Meanwhile, at the launch of the CLA report Imagine Nation: the value of Cultural Learning, president of the Royal Academy of Dance Darcey Bussell called for ‘physical literacy’ to be taught four times a week, and for protection and expansion of the arts curriculum in schools. The CLA observes that we have seen a decline in the number of children taking arts subjects, a reduction in arts teaching hours and fewer arts teachers employed. In turn, a government spokesperson has stressed the importance of music and the arts for transforming lives and providing opportunities.

For my own part, I wonder whether schools, and the arts in particular, might have an important role to play in the development of good mental health in young people, and offer government an educational option beyond dealing better with the obverse.

All over the world, staff and students in drama departments strive to provide a glimpse of worlds different from the ones we inhabit. Sometimes it’s a better world, sometimes worse – either way, theatre aims to change us as we get lost in the one we have created. The theatre of Bryony Kimmings and the spoken word of Cecilia Knapp do so to raise overtly issues concerning mental health that might otherwise remain hidden, and we have been keen to introduce students to their work. No less importantly, our students are increasingly the producers and thinkers behind theatrical ideas. We regularly stage devised performances, and exam boards all encourage students to devise their own work. The struggles involved with presenting their thoughts in this way have raised the game of a drama student, and made them wiser to the complexities of relationships. I can think of many students about whom teachers in other subjects have expressed concerns that they don’t ‘share’ in class, learning through drama that they can say their piece, and that the world will not end if they are challenged. It is immensely gratifying when, invariably, we find that this new confidence has transferred to their lessons in other subjects.

Whilst my own experience is purely anecdotal, it chimes with the CLA’s thoroughly-evidenced findings that theatre and drama improve young people’s social skills and emotional wellbeing, and that engaging in the arts increases young people’s resilience. The report cites evidence from the UK that art and music-related leisure at the age of 16 increases the odds of civic engagement at age 29 and, according to American studies, that an arts-rich education results in a greater likelihood of voting and participation in a political campaign. It also cites findings from a recent systematic review of relevant literature which found that volunteering and caring are both developed by arts engagement.

The social benefits of such outcomes are pretty much self-evident, but a closer look at the idea of ‘resilience’ – an idea with particular currency in discussions of education and young people’s mental health in the UK – suggests that there is a significant health benefit as well.

Adolescent psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg draws on the pioneering work of Emmy Werner in developing strategies to help young people develop resilience, which he describes as the capacity of young people to face, overcome, and be strengthened and even transformed by adversity. Werner’s work in Hawaii – in an area with high levels of adult unemployment and substance abuse – found that two thirds of young people exhibited destructive behaviours. Crucially, however, a third did not, and she found that these young people shared important characteristics – a finding reinforced in subsequent research.

Gregg stresses that, amongst other things, resilient young people develop absorbing passions, with their self-esteem boosted by having developed expertise, thus reinforcing the importance of practice and persistence. They have the facility of seeing life ‘as it is’ – knowing that bad things happen and how to deal with them, but also knowing that there are plenty of good things. They also do good, thus benefiting from a boost to their immune system and general well-being, and enjoy a sense of being part of something greater than themselves, such as a philosophy or a cause.

Looked at purely through the prism of young people’s mental health (there are other compelling reasons, of course), there would seem to a health benefit implicit in making arts education more of a priority. I believe that recent years have seen the arts marginalised in government’s enthusiasm for STEM subjects and the wider belief that the value of school is best understood in terms of GDP and economic competitiveness. If Theresa May is really serious about safeguarding young people’s mental health, she might do well to rethink – school is surely about all aspects of young people’s wellbeing, and there is a clear case for understanding arts education is essential in this regard.