Behind the scenes with “Our Theatre” at Shakespeare’s Globe

An enchanting auditorium, a renowned playwright, a hushed audience… Only a small number of people can boast that they have performed Shakespeare on the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse stage. Among them are the participants of The Globe’s “Our Theatre” project.

Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
The atmospheric interior of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Each year, Globe Education brings together local schoolchildren and adult actors to perform a rendition of one of Shakespeare’s masterpieces. Taking part in “Our Theatre 2019” are two mainstream secondary schools, one special educational needs school, The Globe’s Southwark Youth Theatre and Southwark Playhouse Elder’s Company.

Each participant goes on an exhilarating journey, picking up a host of lifelong learning skills along the way.

This July, the Our Theatre groups will put on two performances at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, followed by productions at their own local venues. Getting to this point involves commitment, hard work and, of course, plenty of fun.

From the initial storytelling sessions through to the final performances, each participant goes on an exhilarating journey, picking up a host of lifelong learning skills along the way. These include a deeper understanding of Shakespeare, enhanced communication skills and the ability to work effectively in groups. Benefits such as these have attracted the notice of the Harris Foundation for Lifelong Learning. As a result, The Foundation is currently supporting Our Theatre, in a commitment that will last for at least four years.

This year’s Our Theatre cohort will be performing their own rendition of Shakespeare’s epic history play “Henry V”. Here’s a look at what the participants will be experiencing in the run up to their July performances:

Getting to know the play

Globe Education kicks off the rehearsal process with interactive storytelling sessions.

Shakespeare’s plays have delighted audiences for generations. The themes and emotions still have a powerful resonance, even in these modern times. A major aim of the Our Theatre project is to help participants understand the world of their chosen play. This includes comprehending the language and exploring how the play is relevant in today’s society. On an individual level, participants must also grasp the motivations of their own character within the play.

To help achieve all of this, Globe Education kicks off the rehearsal process with interactive storytelling sessions. The participants visit The Globe to watch an hour-long version of Henry V, which is performed, single-handedly, by a Globe Education Practitioner. Participants are encouraged to create sound effects, to comment on the story as it unfolds and to ask questions. Then, inspired by their experience and armed with more knowledge about the play, the participants will be ready to begin rehearsals.

The rehearsal process

The skills they develop during this time, from communication to empathy, can stay with them for life.

This year’s rehearsals will take place over 16 weeks. Each group of participants has two separate productions to prepare for: the double performance at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse and the performance at their own venue. The actors must get to know the characters and learn the edited script – which has been adapted to fit the time constraints and the needs of the individual groups. Each actor must also prepare themselves to perform in the different spaces, learning how to adapt their voices and movements to suit each environment.

The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse offers a minimalist experience. There are no special lighting effects or complex sets. Meanwhile, any music or sound effects must be performed live on stage. The props and costumes are limited as well. This encourages the actors to find other, creative ways to portray their characters and to set the mood of a scene.

Within their own venues, the Our Theatre groups have more flexibility. They are free to involve other students or actors in their performances, and can make costumes or generate special effects as desired.

By the end of the rehearsals, the participants will have absorbed the play and its characters, and learned how to adapt themselves to two different performance spaces. They will have worked together, using their imaginations and creativity to craft their own powerful performances. The skills they develop during this time, from communication to empathy, can stay with them for life.

Group leader training

A core aim of Our Theatre is to enhance the skills of these group leaders.

The actors are not the only ones to enjoy a wonderful learning opportunity. The rehearsal process is run by the “group leaders” – who are either drama teachers from the schools or leaders from the local drama groups. A core aim of Our Theatre is to enhance the skills of these group leaders. Each individual is paired with a Globe Education Practitioner, who can guide them through the process of preparing, rehearsing, staging and performing their Henry V renditions.

Through a series of training sessions, the group leaders develop a host of skills. They are introduced to “Globe Practice”, which is the set of techniques and exercises that The Globe has devised in order to help people to access Shakespeare’s plays. These include iambic pentameter exercises and activities that explore verse and prose.

The training sessions also cover topics such as the performance space, behaviour management and project evaluation. The latter is an important focus. In the past, it has taken the form of self-evaluation by the group leaders and students, who have rated their experience at the beginning and the end of the project.

So, what do the participants enjoy most about Our Theatre? According to previous evaluations, performing is always a favourite part! Participants enjoy having the chance to learn from a Globe Practitioner. Meanwhile, students have also expressed that they like having protected time at school to be creative.

Rehearsals for Our Theatre 2019 begin at the end of February. Watch this space for more news over the coming months!