The Space is the place

Source: Teaching Drama magazine

16 May 2019

Alasdair Buchan reports on his experience of the Music & Drama Education Expo | London 2019 from the best seat in the house, as Theatre Manager of The Space

At the start of the first day we couldn’t find the light switch. In my capacity as Theatre Manager for The Space, home to much of the Drama element of the annual Music and Drama Education Expo | London, locating it was the first of my responsibilities before I had the privilege of keeping a watchful eye over each of the planned events.

As the first patrons arrived I was forced to abandon the search and the room looked set to be shrouded in a rather severe half-light for the whole day. No matter, however, as the day started with a street dance workshop led by Holly Frances Williams on behalf of RSL. As participants and organisers alike dipped and sashayed they provided enough energy to power the National Grid with a joyous and energetic start to proceedings.

Variety and inspiration

This year’s Drama Education Expo boasted two days-worth of speakers and workshops exploring a hugely diverse range of topics from Brecht to filmmaking. Educators from across the world came together encouraged by the promise of ideas shared and techniques honed. At times the queue for entry to The Space stretched far along the corridor between the many stalls and demonstrations of the vast Kensington Olympia Central. A general sense of inquisitiveness pervaded throughout the two days: a chance for those teachers present to become like their charges, eagerly learning something new and unexpected. This inquisitiveness would sometimes turn to a wild, childlike sense of play or sometimes into passionate discussion. Following Open Drama UK’s Catherine Nash and Alison Warren’s rousing call for Drama teachers to unite and pool their resources in order to simplify KS3 assessment, Teaching Drama’s Twitter account lit up with messages from those present – and those beyond – pledging support and enthusiasm.

Some speakers chose to use text as a starting point. In their Shakespeare Masterclass, Louise de Froment and Francesca Ellis from Shakespeare Schools Foundation explored the infamous seduction scene between Lady Anne and Richard III, encouraging as much practical involvement as possible and demystifying the text with modern subtext to show how to bring the scene to life. In fact, our Lady Anne was so unexpectedly caught up with the atmosphere in the room that she hurled a four-letter expletive at Richard, reducing the room first to shock and then hysterics. Elsewhere, Tim Armitage used excerpts from A Streetcar Named Desire and influence from Frantic Assembly to explore the thorny devising element on the A Level syllabus, and it was with Michael Morpurgo’s Blodin the Beast that Dr. Geoffrey Smith illustrated how younger children could be prompted to ‘take control of the narrative.’

This was a particular highlight. Smith’s approach was simple and considered: starting with visual images he built up a world using the imagination of the participants – first physically and then adding sound before integrating text slowly. At every turn he coaxed the group to suggest what might happen next. The crowd was rapt as he moved between us, a lantern in his hand, willing him to approach us that we might – just for a moment – take control of the narrative. It was obvious how this approach would transfix any classroom.

New approaches

Zeena Rasheed’s blistering Brecht workshop was a brightly coloured, energetic tumble through his practice. This was the Brecht of Music Hall, of Woyzek’s Showman, of Mackie Messer. A Brecht far removed from the grey figure he has been turned into by unimaginative teaching and curricula of the past. There was a lot to learn from this.

For a moment it looked like the always-popular Stage Combat workshop wouldn’t happen before Adam Milford of Theatre Workout valiantly stepped in. Everyone, regardless of age, can get excited about learning exactly how best to pretend you’re dragging a friend along the floor by the ear. More than just enormous fun, Stage Combat is a wonderful way of involving students who have been put off drama by seemingly incomprehensible text. This all-encompassing approach had been the subject of Adam Milford’s presentation on engaging SEND and ESL students with drama, which was a vital discussion on making our learning spaces more inclusive.

It was a shame that due to unforeseen circumstances Ed Boulter-Comer was unable to talk to us about Gender and Sexuality in Classroom Drama. Fortunately, however, his presentation on this incredibly pertinent topic is available on the resources website. There, too, can be found many resources provided by most of the speakers at the Expo, an invaluable supply of inspiration.

Rest assured that I managed to fix the lights well in time for our final speaker. Helen Battelly showed us how to use music, drama and role-play to improve communication, language and literacy in the classroom. Her dynamic and physical approach was infectious. Together we danced across the floor, walked through a metaphorical jungle and, finally, as we told stories with miniature lights attached to our fingers I realised that over the course of the two days the experience had been – figuratively and literally – illuminating.

Music & Drama Education Expo | Manchester 2019 will take place at Old Trafford on 10 October. Register now for the upcoming show here!