Read more on how taking part in the Festival has transformed the lives of young people and their teachers, across the UK.
At Coram Shakespeare Schools Foundation, we know that drama has the power to help young people through challenging life circumstances.
Kabeera, 14, is a student at City Academy in Birmingham. She told us how taking part in Coram Shakespeare Schools Festival provided a way for her and her castmates to address issues of gang violence. She told us:
“We decided to set our version of Othello in inner-city Birmingham. We wanted to present the story in a way that is relevant to us.
Most of us in the cast know someone who has been stabbed or shot. There was a drive-by shooting outside the primary school lots of us went to and very sadly the boy died. Setting the story in our area has helped us face up to the reality of gang violence, and it shows the world what is happening to us.”
Kabeera also told us how drama has helped her to overcome personal challenges. She said:
“I wouldn’t say I was a ‘big personality’. It might appear that way, but it masks the real me. I think drama is so important. It enables everyone to be themselves and not hide. I have suffered trauma in my life and I have panic attacks. I was having a panic attack before I went on stage but I did my best to push through it and perform anyway. It felt like a real achievement.”
Karen Slater, Headteacher at City Academy told us: “The Festival gives our students the chance to access creative opportunities they might not otherwise have, widening their cultural experience.”
Robbie’s StoryHow CSSF helped one young student develop a passion for reading
We work with young people in some of the most deprived areas of the UK, giving children from disadvantaged backgrounds an opportunity to smash the Shakespeare glass ceiling and enjoy this most celebrated of writers.
One such young person, was Robbie, 11, from Saints Peter and Paul RC Primary School in Knowsley. His headteacher told us about some of the challenges faced by young people in their community:
“Our school is situated in a hard community. There is gun crime, knife crime and problems with drugs. Along with that goes a culture of not snitching on anyone else. Many of our parents are on low incomes. Children’s home lives can be chaotic and many of them see quite negative things.”
For Robbie, the idea of standing in front of a crowd, reciting lines of Shakespeare was scary. In fact, as the project began, Robbie wasn’t keen on the idea of learning lines or rehearsing at all:
“I didn’t like reading that much before. I thought it was boring. When I saw how many lines I was going to have to learn as the narrator I thought ‘Oh no, this is going to be really hard.’”
The Festival gave Robbie an opportunity to develop a passion for reading, however. Working with his teachers and our expert facilitators in a supportive environment, Robbie discovered that reading isn’t boring at all. By the end of the project, he came to love reading, revelling in the opportunity to perform for his audience:
“During the rehearsals I realised that narrating is not the same as sitting reading a book on your own. I like the reaction I get from the audience and the role I play in telling the story. There were lots of hard words but our teacher helped us to understand them. Lots of people made mistakes pronouncing words at first but we all laughed about it and learnt the correct way to say them together. No-one was made to feel silly.
Taking part in the Festival has helped me to get better at reading. I felt more confident in the reading test for my SATs. I’m used to reading more on my own now. I really like non-fiction books about space and oceans.”
It’s clear from Robbie’s story that the Festival can change young people’s perception of themselves. Through the Festival, children develop confidence in their abilities, and expand their world.
Joanna Mousley, Robbie’s headteacher, agrees:
“The Festival is helping to transform lives of children at our school. To stand on a stage and soak up the admiration of an audience gives children an incredible feeling of pride.
Lots of our children have very low confidence. As soon as they find something difficult, they want to give up, and often their parents will let them. The Festival gives them a real sense of achievement. They have to work hard to not just learn their lines but understand them too. They need to make sure they turn up to every rehearsal. They need to get along with other people. They need to overcome their stage fright.
By taking part in the Festival, children realise they can achieve. They aspire to greater things and have the ambition to pursue their dreams.”
Milly’s storyHow CSSF can build amazing confidence
This is a story from a proud head teacher, Andy George of Laughton School in Milton Keynes. He told us this after his former student Milly, and her mum, came back to visit him after she had moved onto secondary school this summer.
"Milly was a very quiet, not very confident girl and her mum remembers that she would not even stand up for the Christmas Nativity when she was little because she was too shy.
Fast-forward to Milly’s last year at Loughton School, she successfully auditioned for our first year with Coram SSF, taking the part of Polonius in Hamlet. Milly was one of the key players in the performance.
She quickly grew in confidence and her acting ability, drive, focus and her obvious love of what we were doing shone through, both on and off the stage. Her performance, along with the other cast members was outstanding, and all of us were blown away by the power that Milly and the other actors showed.
Milly blossomed for the rest of the year, and made amazing progress in her learning.
She came into school today in her secondary uniform. We talked about how secondary schools life was, and then I asked ‘and the acting?’
Milly told me she attends a Saturday stage school, and has been selected to appear in a West End junior production next spring. She intends to study drama and acting as she goes through her education, and ultimately wants to join the theatre. She is currently studying The Tempest, and enjoying it marvellously.
Coram Shakespeare Schools Festival has been instrumental in helping Milly find her passion and direction and for bringing her confidence to amazing levels. Both her parents and the school cannot recommend SSF highly enough."
Carolyn’s storyHow CSSF changed this student's perception of Shakespeare
"I thought this play was going to be so rubbish."
Before getting involved in Coram Shakespeare Schools Festival students are often sceptical of performing Shakespeare. But CSSF aims to break down these pre-conceptions by breathing new life into these great works.
Year 9 pupil Carolyn was one such student. After seeing her school’s previous production of Much Ado About Nothing she admits she didn’t really engage with the language and story.
"I was watching it but it didn’t really catch my attention. I didn’t understand it."
Despite her reservations, Carolyn made the bold decision to audition for her school's Festival production of Othello in 2009. Her experience shaped the way she engaged with Shakespeare and drama.
"I wanted to interpret and get to know Shakespeare for myself… When you are actually on the stage performing it you get a chance to understand it. I would highly recommend performing it."
By giving young people like Carolyn the opportunity to interact with the plays in a practical context, students have the chance to discover for themselves the relevance, power and velocity of Shakespeare’s work.
What would she advise other students who may be sceptical?
"I would say don’t judge something on the way it sounds or looks, just go along with it and you’ll start to enjoy it. I would 150% do it again!"
Tyler's StoryHow the Festival helped Tyler rejoin mainstream education
Coram Shakespeare Schools Festival brings people together. For 13-year-old Tyler, it has played a crucial role in enabling him to join in with mainstream teaching at his school.
Tyler is a student at All Saints’ Academy in Cheltenham. Due to social and emotional difficulties, he was moved to the school's specialist intervention unit where he could focus in a more intimate environment.
However, as his drama teacher Harriet Baynham-Williams told us, he was desperate to get back into mainstream education.
Having shown an aptitude for drama with a small role in the school’s production of Les Miserables, he was cast as one of the Mechanicals in the school’s performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Coram Shakespeare Schools Festival.
It was a role Tyler made his own. During the Company Workshop, which all schools receive as part of their Festival journey, he worked with our theatre world professional to develop his own idea for a play within a play. This involved renaming his character ‘Trumpet’ and devising an original introduction where he marched out onto stage trailed by a mini-me carrying a trumpet. He then told the audience he was the real director and what they were about to see was really a work in progress. “Will it be A Midsummer Night’s Dream or A Midsummer’s Nightmare?” he asked.
It was a bold creative move that empowered Tyler with confidence. “Stepping out onto that big stage was scary,” he says, “But when I heard the audience I thought ‘game on’. I react well to a crowd and when I’m on stage I feel like I want to make them laugh.”
Performing in front of a large audience hasn’t been the only challenge Tyler has faced head on. “I’ve seen a huge difference in his behaviour and his focus,” says Harriet. “He is an absolute asset in my drama lessons. He’s so enthusiastic and gets everyone else on board. Having seen me take nothing to something with our Festival performance, he now acts like a mini director.”
It was following his performance in the Festival that it was decided that Tyler would rejoin mainstream lessons full time. “His attitude to learning in general has improved massively. He used to hate writing. But now he sees the links between writing and other opportunities his attitude towards it has changed,” says Harriet.
It’s a positivity that has extended to other areas of school life, and seen him make new friends. Not only has Tyler joined the school drama club along with several of his castmates, his also joined the Combined Cadet Force (CCF). In his first session, he was rewarded with the privilege of carrying the flag on account of his exemplary behaviour.
“For Tyler, taking part in the Festival has been truly life-changing,” says Harriet.
Sirius Academy’s storyHow Coram SSF encouraged one student to beat the bullies and inspire his peers
As well as being entertaining and a fun way for students to make their first steps onto the stage, Coram SSF also provides emotional support and confidence for children in a way that makes a significant difference to their lives in the long term. In Hull, one student in particular found participation in the Festival changed the way he approached going to school.
"We’re a family. I don’t think any of our performances would have been as good without the friendships that we’ve made." Will from Sirius Academy in Hull
Will was being bullied in Year Eight, and didn’t have a lot of confidence. In Year Ten, he took part in the Festival after watching a performance the previous year. This experience enabled him to make new friends, with whom he now enjoys an active social life.
Collaborating on a project with his peers has taught Will to value his own ideas. He feels as if he is able to give creative input into the production throughout the rehearsal process, and he wants to pay this newfound positivity forward.
As part of achieving his Silver Arts Award he has started his own drama club, taking place once a week at dinner time.
"I’ve targeted Year Sevens to Nines... just to get them interested so that when we leave someone else can do it. It’s about integrating other kids. It’s had an amazing impact on all of us and we want to leave that behind."
St Albans Secondary School’s storyHow Coram SSF can help overcome language barriers for EAL students
For schools with a high proportion of students who speak English as an additional language, involvement in Coram Shakespeare Schools Festival is a great chance to show pupils the beauty and range of Shakespeare's texts in action, and in doing so provide a practical platform to improve English skills.
St Albans Secondary School found the festival particularly helpful. While the expected English levels for pupils graduating from primary to secondary school should be at Level Four, at this school 60% of the students were at Level Two.
English Teacher Andrew Cooley wanted to show his students that ‘English wasn't just about taking an exam’ and suggested some of his Year 9 English class perform Othello in the Festival.
"The children like Shakespeare; the stories are gripping, the characters incredibly engaging, detailed and well drawn and they’re entitled to it – it’s their heritage." - Andrew Cooley, teacher.
After a stuttering start - including a dress rehearsal where an entire scene was skipped by mistake because the young cast were so nervous - it all started to click.
For one student, the faltering dress-rehearsal spurred him on to raise his game.
"[After the failed rehearsal] we just concentrated more… did more line runs, slowed down, focused and put more expression into what we were saying." - Yusuf, student.
Andrew was stunned at the 'wholly positive' effect the Festival had on, not only the cast, but the other pupils in his English class.
"It was interesting to see the boys come in and be the experts, and the other pupils [would] defer to them in lots of ways - they definitely gained in status from doing it," Andrew told us.
Yusuf, who won a drama award for his performance, was given the responsibility of choosing the next Coram SSF play they would perform.
"Yusuf's chosen Measure for Measure. He read the whole script, not the abridged version. It’s very challenging - I’ve only ever taught it to a-level or degree classes, [and] I never thought I’d teach it to Year 10."
While the school didn't have a drama department, Coram SSF provided an opportunity to engage its students in a professional theatre environment which helped raise the standard of literacy in the school.
Tim’s storyHow Coram SSF can benefit teachers as much as students
"Refreshing, uplifting, inspiring." Tim Clarke, Head of Drama, St. John’s College
Taking part in Coram Shakespeare Schools Festival isn't just a fascinating journey for the students but a chance for teachers involved in the process to gain new experience that will help them throughout the rest of their career.
Tim Clarke, Head of Drama at St John’s College, discovered that the skills he learnt in a Teacher Workshop were useful above and beyond his festival production of The Tempest. He felt so invigorated that he started implementing them in his daily work at school.
A favourite of his was the Archetypes exercise, which helps performers to capture key elements of their characters by fitting them into archetypes. He split his Prospero into two parts, one an avenger and one a caring character.
"Watching it was like watching a spell."
Tim had directed The Tempest three times previously, but this time with the support of CSSF, he was able explore the characters in greater depth and create a piece that was truly innovative.
The Archetypes exercise has helped Tim in every play since, and has gone on to have wider use in the school. When his department was being reviewed, Tim did a lesson using the exercise. It was such a great success that he is going to teach the exercise to other members of staff.
Jane’s storyHow CSSF linked a family in Ghana with the House of Lords
Jane is aged 10 and from Ghana, and took part in the Festival while at South Rise Primary School in Greenwich. She played Mark Antony in the school's production of Antony & Cleopatra; her story is an example of the way Shakespeare can illuminate and transform a life.
When Teacher-Director Jenny Chapman, invited Jane’s mother in to discuss the extra work load, it transpired that Jane’s maternal grandfather in Ghana had named all of his children after Shakespeare characters. Jane's mother was even named Viola - but had never seen or read a Shakespeare play, and did not know which one her name was from. Participating in the Festival allowed the family to join the dots and learn more about themselves and their history.
"If you go into it with the expectation that they will understand the themes and that they are relevant to them, they rise to the occasion." Jenny
And to her family’s pride, Jane has gone on to perform with Coram SSF at the House Of Lords and the BT Tower.
Samuel Cody Specialist Sports College’s StoryHow Coram SSF helped the students of this special school gain confidence
Coram Shakespeare Schools Festival is proud to work with special schools around the UK. By empowering children to perform Shakespeare using adapted scripts and rehearsal guidelines, parents and teachers have seen the incredible impact the festival has had on the lives of many children.
For students at the Samuel Cody School, Shakespeare is a vehicle for exploring emotion; it gives the young people a voice. Where autism may restrict their ability to make conversation; being able to access the language, to own it and to vocalise it is their biggest accomplishment.
"There is so much they want to say but their word-finding skills are such that they'll start and won't be able to find the next word and so don't know what to say. But they'll perform and perform and perform." - teacher, Samuel Cody School
Before the Festival, one of Samuel Cody’s students, Sam, couldn't look his teachers in the eye. But since performing in the Festival his confidence has grown considerably and he now initiates conversation in class.
Another student, Paris, was very self-contained before taking part in the Festival. He struggled to read and speaking up in class was a big challenge. But when he was given the lead role in Macbeth, he began to come out of his shell. By showtime he had memorised the entire script.
The Festival provided the students at Samuel Cody the chance to rehearse and perform alongside mainstream schools, creating what one student called ‘an even stage’.
"If they have been in mainstream [schools] they’ve been at the bottom of the pile. When they’re on stage and everyone is smiling, they know they’ve achieved a hell of a lot," Shelley and Rosemary, teachers at Samuel Cody School, told us.
The final performance was a uniquely powerful occasion where parents were able to ‘see for the first time what their child is capable of’.
For the students, ‘taking part in Shakespeare Schools Festival was like the awakening of an imagination in them’.
Ysgol Bro Hyddgen's StoryHow Coram Shakespeare Schools Foundation helped one school embrace a new Welsh curriculum.
A central aim of the new Welsh curriculum is to give children the opportunity to become ambitious, capable learners, with the Expressive Arts identified as a major area of focus.
Headteacher Haf Ap Robert from Ysgol Bro Hyddgen in Machynlleth, Powys, explains how taking part in Coram Shakespeare Schools Festival has helped her school to embrace the new curriculum, transforming learning for lower-attaining students.
“We decided to run the project Shakespeare Schools Festival with our class of English-speakers, aged eight to eleven. Many of these students are from disadvantaged backgrounds and don’t have much experience of the performing arts. Lots of these children are lower-attaining, with over 40% on our Additional Learning Needs register.
“For us, Shakespeare Schools Festival presented a real opportunity to give these children a rich experience of the Expressive Arts. The new Welsh curriculum lends itself to topic-based learning and so as part of our Festival experience we devised a scheme of learning themed around our play, Macbeth.
“The children felt proud to be tackling something so ambitious and rose to the challenge. They loved the opportunity to work kinaesthetically, and taking part in drama activities helped to create a safe environment where everyone was willing to offer an opinion.
“The Big Questions resource provided by Shakespeare Schools Foundation really helped to push children’s thinking. The question ‘Should you ever ask someone to do something you are not willing to do?’ had them hooked. We divided the room in half, with children trying to persuade each other to cross over onto the side that represented their point of view. It got very heated!
“One of the biggest things I’ve learnt from this project is that with the right support anything is possible. Some children I thought of as being quiet and without much to contribute really came out of their shell and became eager participants. As a class, they are now more confident themselves and will speak up.
“There’s one girl in particular who stands out. Normally, she wouldn’t say boo to a goose and would disengage during lessons. But during our Macbeth sessions she was utterly engaged. When it came to the Festival performance, I cast her as one of the witches. She was excellent at landing her lines with real meaning, and was a great role model for the other two witches in particular. This gave a real boost to her self-esteem.
“The legacy of this project has been long-lasting. Now, the children are all much more willing to read out loud in class, and they are more focused and independent in their learning.”
Wycombe Abbey’s storyHow Coram SSF unites mainstream and special schools
"Our girls are always humbled by working with children from special schools and this year a primary school; this is one of the big benefits of taking part." Caroline Jordan, Headteacher, Headington School
For many taking part in the Festival the opportunity to work with a wide variety of students from different backgrounds is what makes the experience unique.
Wycombe Abbey is an independent all girls schools in Buckinghamshire. The school’s headteacher, Mrs Cynthia Hall, told us that a large contributor to them taking part in the Festival is the opportunity to work alongside other local schools and that, in turn, this has a positive impact on Wycombe Abbey.
For the students, the opportunity to work alongside those from different backgrounds is a great learning opportunity. Ella performed in the school’s production as Henry V and then again at a Coram SSF Downing Street reception.
She found both experiences very rewarding.
"It was absolutely amazing to witness all these young people performing Shakespeare so well."
Ella performed alongside students from primary schools, an Academy and also students from a special school, who performed A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
"Not only did I deliver my speech but I also helped with Puck’s final speech, doing sign language at the end of the montage. The whole performance was just unreal and I felt so privileged to be there."
The relationship between special and mainstream schools during the Festival has a huge impact on all students involved.
Shakespeare brings participants together through shared experience and a shared cultural history. Stuart Harrington, a teacher at Dartford Grammar, explains how working together can increase learning and changes attitudes:
"My abiding memory of the Festival would be my first cast workshop in Maidstone where my students were at the Cast Workshop with a special needs school. It was a touching experience to see my students actually helping them along, learning from these other students with special needs as well. There was a really close bond built between the students in that morning I guess that’s got nothing to with Shakespeare, but if the Festival was to provide one memorable experience it would be that for me."
Dorin Park’s storyHow CSSF has a lasting impact on special school students' lives
"I think it's really important that even though our children have special needs - in fact, because they have special needs - they're able to access really important and excellent literature, and that includes Shakespeare." Liz Roberts and Pauline Sallis, teachers, Dorin Park School
Teachers Liz Roberts and Pauline Sallis employ a range of performance techniques to ensure that their students at Dorin Park School are able to fully understand Shakespeare’s texts. Dance, movement, chanting and singing are used to explore the themes and stories of the plays.
The challenge for the teachers is to try to give meaning to abstract words and concepts. Looking into the line ‘What’s done cannot be undone’ from Macbeth, they posed the question: have you ever done something you wished you hadn’t done?
One of their students pondered the matter for a long time before finally replying profoundly that actions couldn't be rubbed out like a mistake in a book.
The Festival’s impact on the students is long-lasting. Liz spoke of meeting a former student, now in her twenties, who took part in their first production of The Tempest five years before:
"She looked at me and said, ‘Full fathom five thy father lies’. She didn’t even say hello - just those words."
Sam’s StoryHow the Festival supported one student to work with others
Sam’s class began rehearsals for their production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream online during the first lockdown; they were a Year 7 class, going into Year 8. Sam had had a challenging Year 7. He had grown up in an area of high deprivation and had a difficult home life. His attendance was not always as good as it could have been and his attitude to school and learning was very negative. The school’s plan to have someone help him with anger management had recently fallen through due to COVID restrictions, as external visitors were no longer permitted. ‘He was angry at the world,’ said his Teacher-Director. ‘He didn’t want to spend one second longer on school grounds than he had to.’
Sam is fantastic at drama, which has always been a real outlet for him. His Teacher-Director was thrilled when he wanted to join the cast for the Festival, especially as it involved staying after school for rehearsals. Staying at school out of hours was a really big deal for Sam, and at the beginning of the process he missed a number of rehearsals, often because he was in detention for disruptive behaviour, rudeness, or not getting homework done. Sometimes the other cast members would get frustrated with Sam turning up late, or missing these rehearsals because he was in detention.
Around the time that students found out which part they would be playing and started doing character work, something changed for Sam. He didn’t miss another rehearsal. He started independently emailing the Teacher-Director after school with thoughts about his character and to tell her about the effort he had been putting in on his own time – learning his lines and practising them in front of the mirror. He even started supporting other students in rehearsals, encouraging them to focus and work together on scenes. ‘Something just clicked,’ his Teacher-Director said. A week before the show, Sam stopped the cast in order to apologise for his past behaviour – for any rudeness or meanness they might have felt from him, saying that he hoped the experience of being part of the play together would create new friendships. The Teacher-Director stressed the importance for Sam and the other students in the cast to have a safe space outside of lessons that was based on fun and allowed them to ‘just flourish.’ Having this space was especially important in the context of the stresses and disruptions of COVID-19.
The final performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was a huge success, and Sam’s family were able to come and see him excel.
A letter from KatieHow Coram SSF helped Katie overcome her fears
The Festival gives thousands of children each year a unique opportunity to face their fears and take on the challenge of live performance. One young performer in Cambridge, Katie, wrote to us about her experience:
On Tuesday 9th October, St Paul’s Year 6 performed part of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, at the Mumford Theatre. I also learned, along the way, how to trust other people and we are now much more cooperative.
I was very scared on the night in the dressing rooms and the wings, but when I got onstage I really moved like Cobweb would: gliding, slithering, and I really felt like my character.
It was a fantastic opportunity for the shy people to come forward and reveal their creativity and acting skills. Thank you so much for organising this Festival. I’m sure Shakespeare himself would be pretty pleased.
Many thanks and yours sincerely, Katie (Cobweb)
Ben’s storyHow CSSF helped Ben overcome his stammer
Coram Shakespeare Schools Festival has seen the lives of children all over the country transformed by the power of performing Shakespeare. From building confidence to learning to work within a team, the shared experience of putting on a show can have a lasting impact on the individuals that take part.
Before participating in the Festival, one student in particular was struggling to be heard in class.
For years, Ben’s stammer had affected his self-confidence. When he was chosen to play the leading role of Macbeth many were concerned about whether Ben would be able to overcome his speech impediment for the performance. By providing a safe and supportive atmosphere in rehearsals, Ben’s fears were soon replaced by confidence and enthusiasm. By the performance, his stammer had completely vanished.
Mark Shenton, Ben’s teacher and director, was astounded at the transformation.
"There was one moment when Lady Macbeth was off sick, and he did his scene with her as a monologue, jumping from side to side because he’d learnt all the lines."
Mark explained why having a clear goal was important in focusing the students:
"It’s such an end goal. That bit is the most important, that’s the carrot on the stick. They have to have these incredibly important skills, confidence and teamwork, they learn that they have to have them."
And what about teamwork?
"When you start rehearsals you start with a blame culture... by the end of rehearsals that doesn't happen – they’re helping each other and praising each other, they’re really nice to each other, and it is a lasting effect."
Ben’s story demonstrates how the Festival process can have a long term impact.
"Miss Farag always used to say I had a little voice – now I don’t!" Ben, student
Lauren’s storyAs part of the 2019 Festival, Lauren staged a one-woman adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing.
For Lauren, 15, the Coram Shakespeare Schools Festival experience has been truly transformational. Lauren attends The Albany, a Pupil Referral Unit in Bury-St-Edmunds, after being excluded from mainstream education. As part of the 2019 Festival, she staged a one-woman adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing.
“When I first started at The Albany, I was worried I wasn’t going to get anywhere in life. I thought people would label me as having gone to a ‘naughty school’.
“Since then, I’ve come a long way. Taking part in Shakespeare Schools Festival has played a big part in that. When I switch into character, I feel like I can let my real emotions out. It helps me to find out who I am and escape my pain. I feel like I’m proving everybody wrong.
“I’ve been in the Festival three times now, and this year I performed a one-woman show. When the opportunity came along, I grabbed it with both hands. The thought of performing on my own made me really nervous. I worried about messing up, or freezing on stage. All these emotions were swirling round and round in my mind. But at the same time, I knew it was an amazing opportunity to challenge myself.
“In the play, I took on the role of Beatrice and worked with Kim, a learning support assistant at The Albany, to develop my ideas. Lots of the characters are trying to fool each other, so we decided to give the play a social media theme as you can’t always believe what people say online. We set scenes from the play in a teenage bedroom, and in a nightclub, with my character glued to her phone and messages popping up from other characters. It was fun coming up with a new way of telling the story.
“In the build-up to the performance, I felt nervous and excited all at the same time. The local newspaper even ran a piece on me, and on the day of the show itself I did an interview with BBC Radio Suffolk. It felt amazing to know people in the world were interested in my story.
“The performance itself felt like a bit of blur. I wasn’t sure if I’d remembered all my lines, but Kim said that I did! My family came along to watch which made me feel really proud. Afterwards, I was buzzing. I couldn’t believe I’d done it!
“Getting involved in theatre has inspired me to explore being a make-up artist and I’ve done work experience with Scaresville, a big outdoor theatre event in my area. I’ve realised that if there’s something you want to do in life then there’s a way to make it work.”
Jack’s storyHow CSSF supported this student's development
CSSF's Festival process can really support the development and improve the mental health of participants. This is the story of 14 year old Jack who has been learning in a behaviour unit for the last 3 years and joined our stage as Hamlet in his school's production.
"At school, I found it difficult to work with other people...I was scared and worried because I wanted to get on with other people, but I couldn't. I felt like I couldn't learn and that meant I got angry.
I found out about the Shakespeare Schools Festival and I felt like I wanted to be part of it and be involved.
During rehearsals, I was able to work with other students...I felt like we were focused on something together and we were working together.
I have made a lot of friends around school now and I am a lot calmer and happier.....When I was on stage I felt like the atmosphere was calm and peaceful in my brain. I didn't think about anything else except being Hamlet. When everyone clapped I couldn't help but smile and laugh. My friends were applauding me too and I was applauding them.
I was speaking to a student from one of the others schools after the show and I got along with them. They said I was amazing and I thought they were amazing too.
...I have learnt that there is nothing to be ashamed of. I am proud of what I achieved."
Jacub’s storyHow CSSF changed this student's life
“The Shakespeare Schools Festival has improved my confidence and my ability…”
Taking part in Coram Shakespeare Schools Festival gives young people the opportunity to improve their concentration skills, which is particularly important when disruptive behaviour is preventing them reaching their full potential.
That's why Katie Brownsey, teacher at The Oxford Academy which is located on a deprived estate in South Oxford, took a leap of faith to support her students through the Coram SSF process.
“In November I took the biggest risk and used my entire year 9 GCSE class as my cast for Romeo and Juliet. After only joining GCSE Drama in September, they were required to work closely as a cast and put trust in one another during the rehearsal process.”
One of her students, Jacub, was cast as Tybalt. The 14-year old student was struggling in school with disruptive behaviour and ADHD. Drama is his favourite subject.
Jacub recalls his feelings ahead of the Festival.
“I was excited and nervous because I’ve never done a big play before with a big part. I was nervous about people watching me and I was worried I would forget my lines.”
The class performed at The Theatre at Headington, together with Mabel Prichard, an SEND school, in front of a large audience. Even the BBC watched the performance, filming Jacub play Tybalt for the show Old School with the Hairy Bikers.
“My heart was beating really fast until I had said all my lines and my bit was over. Then I felt like I wanted to do it all again,” Jacub told us.
Participating in the Coram Shakespeare Schools Festival was a truly transformative experience for the teenager.
“It has changed my life because I was getting loads of C4s in School and getting removed from classes. The Shakespeare Schools Festival has improved my confidence and my ability in Drama and other subjects. After being part of the project I have focused more and got better in Drama and now I’m going to get better results in my GCSE Drama.”
Not only did Jacub benefit from the experience, Katie watched her entire class’s performance improve.
“By the end of the process, the students became critical of their own work and were offering ideas to improve it. They all enjoyed the performance and many still have pictures from the night on their phones! Since the Festival, the class are closer than ever, supporting each other through the next stage of their learning, which will benefit them as they approach their GCSE’s.”
Jacob’s StoryHow CSSF helps students discover their skills beyond the stage
"Jacob has been able to shine within the tech team – guiding the others with lighting and sound."
As his teacher points out, Jacob’s experience as Technical Student shows that the Coram Shakespeare Schools Festival, "isn’t always about the acting".
The technical team at The Sherman Theatre in Cardiff were so impressed by Jacob’s knowledge and professionalism that they sent a letter to congratulate and encourage him.
Y Bont Faen, in their second year of the Festival, see the experience as a means of developing pupils within the context of the wider community. It's become a part of the transition process from Year 5 to Year 6 and, more generally, a bonding exercise for the class.
"CSSF has given us, as the Y Bont Faen family, a brilliant platform to showcase our pupils and their talents."
For this school, an important aspect of the Festival experience is the potential to involve students who are, "uncomfortable with the idea of performance".
Jacob was fearful of performing, but extremely able with technology. He mapped out the lighting and sound changes while watching rehearsals, and presented his ideas to the class for their feedback.
During the performance, Jacob worked with the tech crew at the theatre during the tech run, dress rehearsal and performance:
"It was an honour to watch Jacob interact with the tech team, taking control of the desks and asking really in-depth questions about their roles and responsibilities."
The professionals were so impressed that they allowed Jacob to help with the cues in another school’s production.
Thomas Feierabend, the Deputy Chief Electrician, then wrote a letter to Jacob, commending his ‘sterling work’ and telling him that he has, "the potential to succeed in the technical events industry".
Jacob told us:
"I've loved the experience and it's made me consider a career in technical theatre."
Bryony and Morven’s storyHow marketing their performance taught two students valuable skills
Performing isn’t the only opportunity for students to shine in the Coram Shakespeare Schools Festival. There are many key roles in putting together a production, which is why Coram SSF encourages young people to get involved behind-the-scenes. These technical roles can include marketing, costume, directing and even lighting & sound, which not only give practical experience, but are invaluable when filling out university applications and exploring future career prospects.
Students Bryony and Morven were in charge of marketing their school’s performance of Macbeth.
After watching the first rehearsal they were convinced the show would be a success and were determined to share the experience with others.
"We wanted to show everyone what the cast had achieved and that they really could pull off such a mature performance of a complex piece of drama. This is when we decided we had to promote the festival as much as possible!"
But the pressure was on:
"We had, perhaps, a bigger challenge than other schools in that local people in our area live so far from Eden Court. When we first arrived there, we saw there were no posters up advertising the festival so we immediately asked if we could put some up."
Their ambition and enthusiasm even led them to approach the local press for coverage of the event.
"We asked newspapers such as The Oban Times, The Lochaber News and our local paper Westword to write articles on our production and encouraged them to talk to cast members."
By giving Bryony and Morven the responsibility of marketing, the girls were able to gain valuable hands-on experience.
"We have used it on our UCAS applications, it was the perfect way to show we had experienced marketing on a practical level, not just in theory."
By embracing the many facets of theatre production, CSSF provides a wide range of opportunities for young people, whether they are on stage or behind the scenes, proving that you don’t need to be under the spotlight to shine.