The late Glenda Jackson spoke eloquently about the transformative power of theatre: “When you get a really good night in the theatre a group of strangers is sitting in the auditorium in the dark. Another group of strangers come on in the light. Then energy goes from the light to the dark and hopefully, that energy is increased and sent back to you from the dark. You can create a perfect circle. And that is an ideal for a perfect society, isn’t it?”
We should be offering this transformative experience to all children at least once in their school lives, especially given they will study at least one play in their school career. Plays are made to be performed. Sitting in a classroom, just reading a Shakespeare play, can be a real challenge for both the teacher and the class. Students can quickly lose motivation to explore the text. Performance, however, immediately brings the text to life – making it more relatable, provoking conversations and questioning, as well as providing clarity around the plot and the characters.
A theatre trip is a complete educational experience. Being with school friends and teachers outside the classroom, the journey to and from the theatre, the atmosphere of the venue, and being part of an audience – all of these are part of the excitement. As a teacher, I have organised many theatre trips to London from schools in Kent and a bilingual college in Paris. I never fail to be surprised by the positive reactions of students, which continue even when we’re back in school. So many students have told me, excitedly, that a school trip has been their first theatre experience, and that they have understood the play much better after seeing it performed. I have overheard many animated conversations on the journey back – even from pupils who have struggled to engage with formal teaching in the classroom. One strong memory is of a class of year 11 pupils, mainly boys, who I took to see An Inspector Calls at the Playhouse Theatre. Our further study of the play was so much more participative and enthusiastic because of seeing the text transformed on the stage.
Cost remains a major obstacle in delivering school trips to the theatre. While many theatres already provide discounts, the Theatre for Every Child Campaign would provide additional, and vital, support to subsidise school visits. The organisation of theatre trips can also be a real headache for teachers, who are already under increasing pressure to carry out their jobs efficiently, effectively and safely in the limited time available. Often, the only way trips can be organised is by working outside out of school hours to get to grips with the administration and the practical arrangements. Many teachers cannot devote this time, above and beyond their other responsibilities, and can be put off by the responsibility and the risk of something going wrong.
While online organisations, like Evolve, promote making trips easier, they don’t work hand-in-hand with individual school systems, which can often double the workload. If online processes could be centralised, to link with individual schools’ regulations, and even contact with parents for permissions and payment, this would be such an improvement. Similarly, a coordinator post within schools to support and promote educational visits, would enable more trips to the theatre to take place, in tandem with high-quality theatre company visits to schools.
Shakespeare famously declared that “All the world’s a stage.” With the Theatre for Every Child Campaign, let’s take our young people closer to an understanding of this – through moments of entertainment, reflection, creativity and motivation that come from seeing theatre where it was meant to be seen.
by Karen Thompson, English Teacher & Tutor
Society of London Theatre & UK Theatre believe that every child has the right to experience and enjoy our country’s culture and world-leading theatre, so we will be asking political parties to commit to providing funding and support for our aim in their general election manifestos – that every child goes to the theatre by the time they leave school.
Find out more about our Theatre for Every Child Campaign at theatreforeverychild.org