In May-July 2005 Year 6 pupils at Widecombe-in-the-Moor Primary School wrote and performed a play called Hound Tor in workshops led by MED Theatre director Mark Beeson, with assistance from Sabrina Stolfa, and from two work experience students, Flo Wood and Heather Holcroft Pinn, who record their experiences below.
When I was first told that we’d go to the primary school for work experience, I was really excited. Mark had been working with fourteen year-six children in writing sessions, to script a play written completely by the children. Before we went to the school I was handed a script and I read through it on the way! The parts were mainly similar – all of them for children, although some characters had more lines. Giving out parts is normally the most difficult part of a production because people tend to get upset, but the children we worked with handled it well, although some people kept changing their minds! Then, when all the parts had been given out, we had a read-through of the whole play. It took a while for all the children to adjust to their parts but the read-through went pretty smoothly. My first impression was that they were great kids we were working with and it definitely wasn’t going to be boring!
The next session, Mark and me went through the scenes with the children but this time they could get up and become the characters instead of being stuck in a chair which they were during the read-through. I love this part of the stages you have to go through in a play, because the writing is fresh and you can work on your character and get it exactly how you want. I prompted in this session, added comments and wrote down the important exits and entrances (I got pretty confused by stage right and stage left!). I watched the children act and help them with things they were unsure of.
Between sessions Mark, Heather and I sorted through the costumes that there were, and we picked out clothes that would be suitable e.g. medieval children’s costumes. Then it was back to the school and in Widecombe church house we handed out the costumes. It was great, they all looked the part! Then we ran through the scenes again, and the costumes really helped because their acting was fantastic. Heather and me gave some comments on things we wanted to change – for example, making sure no-one’s back was to the audience. Normally it would be Heather and me doing the acting and with things reversed it felt really weird. The next day it was the performance and we encouraged the year sixes that with a few extra run-throughs we would be ready.
It was the day of the performance and we got up early, ready to go. We loaded all the costumes and the stage block into the car and set off. When we arrived everyone was really excited and there was a lot of moving tables around to make room for the acting space. Then we ran through the play and although a few people forgot their lines it went okay. After a break we were ready to perform.
Everything about the performance went well and the biggest thing that I got out of it was seeing the children’s faces afterwards – they felt really good that they had achieved a whole play in just a few sessions. I think that MED Theatre should continue its work at primary schools because it will provide young people with the experience of writing a play and performing it. It could also lead to new MED members! Overall it was really good fun because the children were so willing to work.
After rehearsing with costumes the day before at the church house in Widecombe we were feeling more confident that the performance would go well. However, we knew that they had never practiced in the room they were performing that day. We arrived with the big bags of costumes and watched them pack away their classroom in an orderly manner, something they had obviously done many times before. The 13 children that were performing that day all seemed excited and I had been really impressed by the story line and writing in their play when I first saw it the day before. With the classroom now transformed into a performing space, we were ready to start the final dress rehearsal.
They went through the play quite smoothly, the children adjusting to their new space very well. We had a couple of problems with costumes and I ended up safety-pining a large amount of cloaks and skirts together. As they came to the last scene Flo, Mark and I clapped them as loudly as the three of us could when they did the bow we had rehearsed thoroughly the day before. Flo and me went through some final notes and pointers to help them in the performance. I hoped they would all remember their lines, I also hoped they would come back as they galloped off at play time!
The headmaster appeared and pulled back the joining screen to reveal the classroom where the audience would sit. Seeing all the chairs laid out, with an aisle down the middle (a new addition I hoped would work), I began to feel nervous for the 13 performing. The chairs began to fill up and I finally realised there would be no time for another run-through. Luckily, at this point tea arrived to the great relief of Flo and me. We sat in our small space cleared in the corner with steaming cups of tea in our hands waiting with everyone else for the performance to begin.
They scattered around on stage for a couple of minutes chatting frantically to work out their places and lines. As they cleared to the sides the headmaster introduced Mark to explain about First Play and the workshop performance they would see today. A hush went over the small crowd as Hannah got on stage to say the first lines. It went from strength to strength, everyone supporting each other and projecting like we had asked the day before. They were all brilliant with their lines and mostly word perfect, for the first time ever. Everyone acted as hard as possible making a real effort for their final performance. I think the audience appreciated the writing and they got lots of laughs, something that spurred them on to keep up the good acting. They even managed to use the new aisle correctly, something that they had never done before. At the end they got a huge round of applause and bowed perfectly, probably better than our Wild Nights young company had at Plymouth! The headmaster seemed very impressed, seeing as they had had so little time to get ready. He really praised them and it was very rewarding to see how proud they were of their performance.