Arnhem Wharf’s Festival Journey

Watch Arnhem Wharf's One Night of Shakespeare journey here.

At Coram Shakespeare Schools Foundation, we knew, when we first began to devise plans for our November 2020 One Night of Shakespeare event, that we wanted to give our audience an experience as close as possible to a traditional theatre performance night. This meant, alongside a variety of scenes and excerpts from a wide range of participating schools’ productions, we wanted to include a complete Shakespeare performance.

We thought immediately of Arnhem Wharf, a primary school on the Isle of Dogs in East London, who had been generous enough to perform their brilliant production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at our Gala Dinner in late 2019. This year, under the guidance of their Teacher-Director (and Coram Shakespeare Schools Foundation Teacher Ambassador), Janet Banzaca, they were taking on The Tempest. We reached out to them and were thrilled when they agreed to become our featured performance for the night.

Hosting us for the broadcast was no small undertaking. As restrictions in schools tightened, questions of how to accommodate Coram Shakespeare Schools Foundation staff, patrons and the accompanying film crew, grew trickier to address. We worked hard to resolve these issues and create a COVID-secure filming plan, but three days before One Night of Shakespeare, disaster struck. The school’s Year 6 bubble burst. A COVID case forced the year group and several members of staff into isolation for two weeks. There was no way that the cast could perform, much less be featured on the Coram Shakespeare Schools Foundation broadcast.

As sad as we were to receive this news, it was nothing to what the cast and staff who had been rehearsing so hard in such adverse circumstances felt. Having initially rescheduled the performance for December, after the November lockdown, Arnhem Wharf had to postpone the performance again as other commitments around Christmas affected their ability to plan and rehearse. Then, in January, the third lockdown and second set of school closures delayed all possibility of performing again.

When the school returned to the classroom in March, they were able to film some scenes of The Tempest, but the constantly changing timeline had taken some of the momentum out of the project. Rather than pushing the students to film more scenes, the Teacher-Director changed tack, and came up with a plan that responded to the strangeness and uncertainty of the pandemic year. She realised that, with the students still processing their difficult experiences of lockdown, there might be a different way to finish the project – one that would allow space for whatever complicated emotions the cast might be feeling after everything they'd been through.

The staff and students of Arnhem Wharf Primary School have been kind enough to share with us a video they've made, featuring insights into their rehearsal process, some reflections from the cast on the experience of learning The Tempest, and finally some scenes that the school were able to get on camera. At Coram Shakespeare Schools Foundation this year, we’ve heard so many stories of schools fighting against the odds to do something fun, creative, uniting and positive, and we hope you’ll enjoy, as much as we did, hearing this one.

Our sincerest thanks goes to Janet, to Stewart the school’s technician and video editor, and of course to the cast of The Tempest, for sharing your story with us. We very much look forward to welcoming you back on one of our stages in the future!

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Coram SSF is a cultural education charity that exists to instil curiosity and empathy, aspiration and self-esteem, literacy and teamwork - giving young people the confidence to see that all the world is their stage.

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