Ria Parry to direct world premiere of Jane Wenham: The Witch of Walkern

Ria Parry, whose past productions include Mad About the Boy and Caryl Churchill’s Fen, will direct the world premiere of Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s Jane Wenham: The Witch of Walkern. Due to tour from September to November 2015, it will also play at London’s Arcola Theatre in January 2016.

Director Ria Parry. Credit: Lydia Stamps

Director Ria Parry. Credit: Lydia Stamps

Inspired by a Hertfordshire village in 1712, the play centres around the title character as she is blamed for a tragic death and charged with witchcraft after decades free from witch hunts. As the village is torn between those wanting to save her life and those claiming they want to rescue her soul, Lenkiewicz’s play will immerse the audience in society’s hunger to find – and create – witches in the village of Walkern.
Originally a research workshop supported by the University of Hertfordshire (an Out of Joint Associate University) and the National Theatre Studio, the idea was borne out of the true story of Jane Wenham, the last woman in England to be convicted of witchcraft.
Of the play, Max Stafford Clark said: ‘I heard the story of Jane Wenham when I was teaching at the University of Hertfordshire, and I met a historian, Owen Davies, who specialises in the modern history of witchcraft. He joined Rebecca and me and a team of actors for a two week workshop at the National Theatre Studio, and also out researching in Hertfordshire. From Jane Wenham’s sad story, Rebecca has created a haunting and resonant play, rooted in history yet full of her own rich invention. I can’t wait to see it brought to the stage by Ria Parry, whose previous successes include what many thought one of the finest productions of Caryl Churchill’s – Fen, and two Fringe First-winning plays.’
The cast includes David Acton, Judith Coke and Tim Delap.

Unicorn Theatre reports fall in visits from school groups

The Unicorn Theatre, one of the UK’s leading theatres dedicated to producing work for young people, has reported a six per cent drop in school group visits during the period from August 2014 to June 2015, compared to the previous year. The theatre has also experienced an increase in cancellations from school groups.

Credit: Manuel Harlan

Credit: Manuel Harlan

Unicorn’s learning associate Catherine Greenwood said in response to the figures: ‘We are hearing from some teachers and head teachers that they are finding it increasingly difficult to justify the time out of the classroom. With schools facing cuts to budgets in the next financial year, and with the government recently announcing plans to make the Ebacc compulsory in all schools, this situation will only get worse.’
The Warwick Report, published in February this year, found that young people from low-income families are least likely to engage with and appreciate the arts as part of the school curriculum or their home life. Greenwood thinks there is a ‘serious danger’ that the current climate will create a ‘two-tier system:  those schools who choose to make the arts available to their students and those who don’t.’ Greenwood believes that letting such a system take hold would be ‘failing many young people.’
‘We need schools, head teachers and governing bodies to actively redress this imbalance if we are to ensure students from all backgrounds have access to theatre. A visit to the theatre can provide schools with a rich context for learning across the curriculum – which many teachers take advantage of, and we have first-hand experience showing that it improves literacy and learning among less able students in particular.’

Drama Online to partner with award-winning audio drama company LA Theatre Works

Drama Online, an award-winning study resource originally created by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc and Faber and Faber, has announced its partnership with LA Theatre Works. The non-profit organisation features audio content as performed by the likes of Hilary Swank, Alfred Molina and Mark Ruffalo and boasts a worldwide audience through international broadcasters: the BBC, Voice of America and Radio Beijing among them.
The partnership comes with the promise that Drama Online users around the world will now have access to audio productions from LA Theatre Works, which features audio versions of 350 classic and contemporary plays, from The Crucible to The Importance of Being Earnest, all available for institutional purchase or subscription through Drama Online.
Jenny Ridout, Editorial Director for Drama Online at Bloomsbury, said of the partnership: ‘LA Theatre Works provides an unrivalled collection of audio recordings of key canonical and contemporary works by leading playwrights performed by prominent actors. It adds real depth and dynamism to the resource. We are delighted to be working with such a high quality content partner, especially one that is so focused on educational needs.’

LA Theatre Works cover of bestseller The Crucible

LA Theatre Works cover of bestseller The Crucible

‘This is an exciting new stage of our reach and growth,’ added Susan Albert Loewenberg, Founder and Producing Director of LA Theatre Works, ‘We continue to increase our global accessibility through this partnership. Our mission is to create superb performances of great dramatic literature, and what better place to make these titles available than through Drama Online?’
Already a source of over 1200 play texts from Methuen Drama, Arden Shakespeare and Faber, 700 images from the Victoria and Albert Museum and American Shakespeare Centre, and a growing list of scholarly works, users of Drama Online will now also benefit from video content, coming later in the year.

Sir Tim Rice awarded Honorary Doctorate of Arts

Sir Tim Rice, known for his award-winning collaborations with Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, has been awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Arts by Leeds Beckett University for his contribution to the industry. Having co-written renowned musicals such as Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita with Lloyd Webber, as well as working on Walt Disney film soundtracks The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, it’s no wonder Rice is considered an asset to the arts.

After receiving his award, Rice said: ‘I am very honoured to be given any award at all in any circumstance and one from such a distinguished university is terrific.’ Vice Chancellor of Leeds Beckett University, Professor Susan Price, said of Rice: ‘[he] is an inspiration and prolific figure in the history of British music and theatre. It was a delight to welcome him to our Headingley Campus and to recognise his enormous contribution to music and the arts.’

Rice and Lloyd Webber with their Academy Awards

Rice and Lloyd Webber with their Academy Awards

Though he originally planned a career as a solicitor, Rice became a management trainee at EMI records in 1965, and not long after that he met fellow struggling songwriter Lloyd Webber. Of his career, Sir Tim said: ‘I never really thought about going into the theatre world when I was young, I didn’t know much about the theatre but I knew a little bit about musicals from my parent’s record collection. It was through meeting Andrew Lloyd Webber really. I was writing pop songs, he was trying to write theatre stuff, our paths crossed and we decided to go for his idea, which was very sensible because we would never have been better than the Beatles or the Rolling Stones but there was nobody doing what we were trying to do.’
An indisputable genius, Rice was knighted for his services to music in 1994, boasts a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and has received top industry accolades, including Academy and Tony Awards.
His acknowledgement of recent cuts to arts funding came through in his advice for graduating arts students: ‘You’ve got to be quite enthusiastic about your job, there’s no point in doing something you don’t like.’ He added: ‘If you are genuinely interested in the arts, even if you don’t think you have an incredible basic talent, there are so many things you can do that aren’t actually being an artist; you can be behind the scenes which doesn’t involve getting up on the stage or painting. It’s the people behind the scenes that make the most money.’

National Youth Theatre pulls controversial ISIS play at last minute

A brand new play, due to open on 12 August, was pulled by the National Youth Theatre just days before the first night. Homegrown, which followed the lives of three Bethnal Green girls believed to have left school to travel to Syria in February, was directed by Nadia Latif and written by Omar El-Khairy, both of whom claim NYT were aware of the subject of the play from the start.

The cast of Homegrown were distraught by the news (Credit: Helen Maybanks/National Youth Theatre)

The cast of Homegrown were distraught by the news (Credit: Helen Maybanks/National Youth Theatre)

The production, which was to feature a 112-strong cast between the ages of 15 and 25, was originally supposed to be performed at Raines Foundation Upper School, less than a mile from the Bethnal Green school attended by Shamima Begum, Amira Abase and Kadiza Sultana, the three girls said to have journeyed to Syria to become jihadi brides.

Latif and El-Khairy experienced their first hurdle in June when they were forced to relocate to UCL academy in Swiss Cottage after Tower Hamlets council expressed concern that the subject matter might be ‘insensitive.’ A spokeswoman for the council added: ‘The school was not aware of the subject of the play when they agreed to lease the premises. Once they became aware, they decided that it would not be appropriate to rent their premises to the National Youth Theatre.’

Following the move, which affected the site-specific nature of the play, Latif and El-Khairy claimed that in late July they were warned that Metropolitan Police wanted to see a copy of the script and were considering planting plain clothed officers in the audience. The proposition came as a shock to the pair, with El-Khairy adding that ‘we don’t know where that came from or who led the conversation.’ Conversely, the Metropolitan Police deny any involvement with the play or intended venue.
Despite previous difficulties, the cast and crew were looking forward to a ‘kaleidoscopic exploration of the treatment of homegrown radicalisation,’ as put by Latif, but the pair were emailed by NYT on the Thursday before it was due to open and the cast were informed on the Friday morning.

While NYT has refused to comment on censorship, El-Khairy said: ‘Voices have been silenced here, there is no doubt about that and I just feel like in order to make the decision to cancel it, something very extreme must have happened.’ Some of the young actors scheduled to star in the show took to social media to voice their distress, with David Hall Tweeting, ‘I don’t know how anything can ever change when we are too scared to say the things that need to be said.’

You can view our previous story about the release of Homegrown here: https://wordpress.com/post/25538237/1551/

EBacc to return to secondary education

The EBacc, or English Baccalaureate, is due to make a return this September after it was scrapped in 2013 to make way for ‘a more balanced and meaningful accountability system,’ as previously proposed by Michael Gove, former Secretary of State for Education.

The EBacc is set to affect students nationwide

The EBacc is set to affect students nationwide

Intended to further control compulsory GCSE subjects in state secondary schools, the plan features an alarming lack of acknowledgement of the arts. Previously a method for ranking schools on a league table depending on pupil merit in ‘core academic subjects’ (maths, English, sciences, languages, and history or geography), the EBacc excludes arts subjects altogether, signifying that the Department for Education does not consider them reliable indicators of a good education.

Despite an increase in students taking arts subjects since the plan was overturned two years ago, the Department for Education has returned to introducing a compulsory list of GCSE subjects, with current Secretary of State for Education Nicky Morgan confirming that ‘every child starting in year 7 in September will be expected to study core academic subjects that make up the EBacc right up to GCSE.’ This is in spite of Christine Blower of the National Union of Teachers describing the EBacc as a ‘narrow vision for education which constricts the curriculum and fails to meet the needs and aspirations of many young people.’

Following the announcement, cross-sector campaign Bacc for the Future is fighting to make the Department for Education rethink its motives and ensure that creative subjects are equally accountable in school rankings. They argue that there will be less encouragement and support around the arts, ultimately having a knock-on effect on the creative industries, which contribute £76.9bn to the UK economy every year.

The EBacc is forseen to cause a drop in students taking arts subjects

The EBacc is forseen to cause a drop in students taking arts subjects

Bacc for the Future is supported by a range of arts figureheads, including Cog Design founder Michael Smith, who said that the ‘marginalisation of arts subjects indicates a lack of understanding of their vital role in our education ecology.’ Similarly, Neil Constable, Chief Executive of Shakespeare’s Globe said: ‘The Government proudly cites the UK creative industries as world leaders, one of the fastest growing sectors, providing £8.8m an hour to our economy. Yet it proposes to impose the EBacc on schools which will starve the industry of fresh talent, stunt the growth of our young people and make us all the poorer.’

The campaign aims to raise awareness surrounding the importance of arts-based subjects, including music, drama and art. Indeed, as pointed out by Rachel Tackley, Director of the English Touring Theatre: ‘Sophocles said: “Whoever neglects the arts when he is young has lost the past and is dead to the future.”’

Free tickets to all London and Birmingham secondary schools for 2016’s Playing Shakespeare

"Playing Shakespear with Deutsche Bank", PSWDB, at the Globe Theatre. School children get the chance to see a Shakepear play "The Merchant of Venice" performed at the Globe. Date: 12 March 2014 Photograph by Amit Lennon

Last year’s Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank production, The Merchant of Venice (Credit: Amit Lennon)

Shakespeare’s Globe has announced that 2016’s Playing Shakespeare schools’ production will be Twelfth Night, running from 25 February–18 March 2016. Secondary state schools in London and Birmingham are eligible for an unlimited number of free tickets for weekday performances at 2pm during the period 25 February–10 March, and for the 7pm performance on 1 March.

State schools outside the London and Birmingham areas, as well as independent schools and colleges, can book reduced rate tickets ranging from £5 to £15 for weekday performances at 2pm during the period 11–18 March.

Supporting the production will be free schools’ workshops, launching in December, CPD sessions for teachers, classroom resources, and a dedicated Twelfth Night website which will launch in January next year.

London, 26th February 2015: Othello at Shakespeare’s Globe, directed by Bill Buckhurst, as part of Globe Education’s Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank 2015

Othello was 2015’s Playing Shakespeare production (Credit: Cesare DeGiglio)

The play, specially designed for GCSE and A-level students, will fit the National Curriculum specification for KS3 (where students are required to study two of Shakespeare’s plays) and KS4 (where students are assessed on one of the Bard’s works).

The Playing Shakespeare initiative will celebrate its tenth anniversary in 2016. Through Globe Education’s partnership with Deutsche Bank, Playing Shakespeare has presented over 117,000 free tickets to schools, with over 70% of schools taking part from every London borough.

Booking for Playing Shakespeare’s production Twelfth Night opens in September; www.shakespearesglobe.com/playing-shakespeare.

Drama Online to add filmed theatre productions to its resource collection

The-Duchess-of-Malfi--001

Stage On Screen’s filmed production of The Duchess of Malfi will be available to watch via Drama Online from October

Drama Online, a subscription study resource available to schools, colleges and higher education institutions, is expanding its resource offering this autumn with video content. Partnerships with organisations such Shakespeare’s Globe and Stage On Screen will see more than 60 hours of material added to the site.

Drama Online’s partnership with Shakespeare’s Globe will add 21 productions to its collection, with further shows to be added. Shakespeare’s Globe’s artistic director, Dominic Dromgoole, says: ‘In Drama Online, Bloomsbury and Faber & Faber have created a fantastic portal for students, and we’re delighted that Globe productions will be some of the first video content on offer there.’

Stage On Screen will be contributing high-definition filmed productions from Greenwich Theatre of The Duchess of Malfi, Doctor Faustus, School for Scandal, and Volpone; and Manchester Royal Exchange’s Hamlet starring Maxine Peake will also feature among the new content.

As well as the filmed productions, Drama Online will be adding a six-hour Shakespeare acting masterclass with Guildhall School of Music and Drama’s head of voice Patsy Rodenburg, featuring movement, speech, body and warm-up exercises.

The new video content will be available for trial in October; for more information, visit www.dramaonlinelibrary.com.

Call for papers for 2016’s Musical Theatre & Drama Education Show

MTDExpo 2016 logo 1.inddApplications are now open for programme ideas for the inaugural Musical Theatre & Drama Education Show.

Launching in February 2016 at Olympia Central in London, the Musical Theatre & Drama Education Show will be co-located with the Music Education Expo, going into its fourth successful year, as a new performing arts element to the Expo’s CPD offerings.

To be considered for the 2016 programme, prospective speakers need to complete an online form at http://www.musiceducationexpo.co.uk/call-for-papers-2016, clearly indicating the aims of the suggested seminar, who the intended audience would be, the learning objectives and relevant key stages, as well as providing a detailed overview of the content in a lesson plan format. An advisory board of education practitioners will shape the 2016 programme from the submitted proposals.

Sarah Lambie, head of content for the Musical Theatre & Drama Education Show and editor of Teaching Drama magazine, said of the call for papers: ‘We’d like to hear from educators and experts in fields as wide-ranging as education psychology, curriculum and exam preparation, technology, education policy, and practitioner techniques.’

The deadline for submissions is 21 August 2015.

For more information about the Musical Theatre & Drama Education Show, visit www.musicaltheatredrama.co.uk.

Unicorn Theatre reports fall in visits from school groups

The Unicorn Theatre, one of the UK’s leading theatres dedicated to producing work for young people, has reported a six per cent drop in school group visits during the period from August 2014 to June 2015 compared to the previous year. The theatre has also experienced an increase in cancellations from school groups.

Unicorn’s learning associate Catherine Greenwood said in response to the figures: ‘We are hearing from some teachers and head teachers that they are finding it increasingly difficult to justify the time out of the classroom. With schools facing cuts to budgets in the next financial year, and with the government recently announcing plans to make the Ebacc compulsory in all schools, this situation will only get worse.’

Unicorn Theatre's production of The Velveteen Rabbit (Credit: Manuel Harlan)

Unicorn Theatre’s production of The Velveteen Rabbit (Credit: Manuel Harlan)

The Warwick Report, published in February this year, found that young people from low-income families are least likely to engage with and appreciate the arts as part of the school curriculum or their home life. Greenwood thinks there is a ‘serious danger’ that the current climate will create a ‘two-tier system:  those schools who choose to make the arts available to their students and those who don’t.’ Greenwood believes that letting such a system take hold would be ‘failing many young people’.

‘We need schools, head teachers and governing bodies to actively redress this imbalance if we are to ensure students from all backgrounds have access to theatre. A visit to the theatre can provide schools with a rich context for learning across the curriculum – which many teachers take advantage of, and we have first-hand experience showing that it improves literacy and learning among less-able students in particular.’