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Theatre Workshops

•  Background

Theatre from Oxford's first workshops were given at Oxford University in 1980. Four years later we began touring the Continent, working with groups in theatres, cultural centres, schools and universities. Workshops have been held in Brussels, Paris, Versailles, Lyon, Bordeaux, Evreux, Bonn, Munich, Milan, Turin, Pisa, Bologna, Livorno, Lonigo, Madrid, Barcelona, Zaragoza, Segovia, Alicante, Palma de Mallorca, Mérida, Teruel, Castellón, Gandía, Geneva, Neuchâtel, Nijmegen and more than twenty other towns across Europe, and at the Universidad de la Laguna in the Canary Islands.

Our work breaks down barriers within and between people. It knows no boundaries. We are ready to travel anywhere in the world to share what we have with others.

The only requirement from students, apart from an interest in what we offer, is a working knowledge of English. In fact, one of the purposes of the workshops in continental Europe is to develop pupils' speaking and listening abilities in English. For more details see Language learning.

A more fundamental aim of our work is the development of the imagination and personality through theatre, and of the body and voice as instruments of expression. See Content.

•  Language learning

Theatre in the study of a foreign language is especially important as a way of developing speaking and listening abilities. The rehearsal room provides greater motivation than a conventional conversation class, and imposes a ban on passivity: everyone is coaxed into playing an active part. The preparation of a scene from a play, or of a condensation of a play, offers the opportunity to work on pronunciation, stress and intonation, as the same lines keep recurring before they are perfected and memorized. Repetition is an unavoidable part of learning a language.

Just as small children stop repetition from becoming tedious by incorporating it into their play, so students can use rehearsals and theatre games to take the drudgery out of language learning. Teachers watching or taking part in the workshops will discover all sorts of ways in which drama school games can be adapted for use in the classroom, to build vocabulary and clarify structural rules. To take a simple example: a story can be told around the class, with each pupil repeating what has already been said, after the teacher has made corrections, then carrying the plot a step further.

See Content for more details.

•  Content

Our course begins with two hours of theatre games - a return to the world of play and of the imagination. The games help pupils to feel comfortable in their own skins, to relate to one another organically, overcome the taboo on physical contact that is usual outside the theatre, to think of the body as the instrument on which their imagination plays and to make a gift of it to the audience and to their fellow performers. The games encourage pupils to listen and to respond spontaneously to one another, quicken their reflexes and develop their memory and their powers of observation and awareness of sounds, smells, tastes and textures.

The two hours of movement, relaxation, breathing and voice that normally follow continue some of the work begun during the theatre games, helping pupils feel at ease with their own and one another's bodies. The aim is to increase the body's suppleness, not its strength, tuning it and making it a more expressive instrument. We encourage pupils to think of the voice not as something separate from the body but growing from it as branches and leaves grow from a tree-trunk, and of breath as the sap that feeds the whole tree.

The amount of time given to improvisation depends on pupils' interest and abilities. Where improvisations have worked well, we have sometimes captured them and made them the basis of a short play. We have recently been using improvisation with our European pupils as a way of increasing their awareness of the poverty and exploitation in former European colonies. See Illustrated talks.

Much of our work is text-based. We have studied over twenty plays, extracts and condensations, among them Romeo and Juliet and Arthur Miller's The Crucible. The parts of Romeo and Juliet have sometimes been played by students of different racial types, making the play especially relevant today. The Crucible describes a witch-hunt at Salem, Massachusetts, in the seventeenth century but is at the same time a metaphor for the official persecution of suspected Communists in the United States in the 1950s, of which Arthur Miller was himself a victim. We have also worked on medieval miracle plays, A Midsummer Night's Dream and other plays by Shakespeare, Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion and Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest.

•  The integrated personality

Not all our pupils become professional actors and actresses but every one of them has benefited from the integrative powers of theatre that provide one of its important social rôles. Fragmentation of the personality is one of the phenomena of the West today. Intellect, imagination, body and emotions are compartmentalized: the university professor, story-teller, athlete and loving mother might as well be living on different planets.

Acting is the expression of the intellect, imagination and emotions through the body and voice, and the aim of an actor's training is to re-integrate the separated parts so that they work in harmony. Our story-teller turns out to be an Olympic swimmer, and at the same time an academic and the mother of four.

Fundamental to the synthesis of mind, body and emotions is physical relaxation, which forms an important part of our teaching.

With relaxation comes greater self-confidence and fluency of speech, making it easier for a pupil to stand up in front of a group or crowd, to persuade and entertain.

As pupils overcome their anxiety about themselves, they start to look outwards at the people around them.

Rôle-playing in improvisations and the close study of character in a play develop a pupil's awareness and understanding of others.

•  Illustrated talks

The subject of these talks is the poverty and exploitation that cast a shadow over countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. They are based on our experiences on these continents and illustrated with films we have made there and with slides of our photos.

The theme of the talks also runs through some of the short plays we work on with our pupils, and through their improvisations. The talks therefore usually form part of a workshop programme, although they can of course be given independently of the theatre workshops.

See Planning.

•  Planning

Our workshops are tailored to suit the needs of the schools, universities and theatres that invite us. We can change the emphasis of our courses, so that more attention is given to learning English or to theatrical skills, to extracts from plays chosen by / for pupils and / or teachers or to plays based on improvisations.

One of our illustrated talks can give added depth to a workshop programme. We spend anything from a day to ten days with pupils. Normally our work covers five days: twenty hours with each of two groups of about fifteen, culminating in a sixty-minute performance in front of friends and relatives or other students.

For details and prices, please contact us.