Girls’ School Students on Shakespeare’s Stage!

March 11, 2016 at 3:06 PM

When studying Shakespearean drama, the historical context is almost as important as the words on the page. What was it like to go to the theatre in the 1600s? How were the plays presented on stage? What was the makeup of the audience? What interaction was there between the crowd and actors? For the Year 7 and 8 students from the Girls’ School, their knowledge of the setting of a Shakespeare play now comes from more than research and imagination. These students were given a first-hand taste of how Elizabethan theatre was performed on the South Bank in London in the 17th century with an acting workshop at the Pop-Up Globe!

Constructed on Greys Ave in the central city, the Pop-Up Globe is the first full-scale working replica of the second Globe Theatre that was built in 1614 and closed in 1642. Shakespeare’s Globe, which opened in London in 1997 is a replica of the original Globe Theatre, built in 1599 and destroyed by fire in 1613. Made from scaffolding and plywood, the Pop-Up Globe is a three-storey, 16-sided polygon with a double gable roof. There is capacity for 900 people, 300 of which are ‘groundlings’ who stand in the ‘yard’ in front of the stage. The rest of the audience are seated 360 degrees around the action. The seating plan gave the students an appreciation of the class hierarchy of theatre-goers from Shakespeare’s era. The best seats in the house, exclusively for the nobility, are called the Lords’ Rooms and situated directly behind the stage, while the Gentlemen’s Rooms were to the side. The stage and seats are covered overhead while half of the pit is open to the elements, meaning the groundlings and those in the front rows of seats, as well as the actors on stage, are susceptible to the weather, as the girls discovered during their workshop!

The girls have been studying Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’ in their English and drama classes. The English lessons have been focussing on the play’s theme of disguise and how this can have comedic and tragic consequences! In drama, the girls are learning about characterisation and how this is conveyed through action, movement and delivery on stage. The workshop started with the tutors giving a detailed explanation of the Globe’s layout, and how this would have impacted on the performances. The girls then got to put this knowledge into action as they took to the stage! Because the audience is watching from every direction, and from above and below the actors, the girls learnt how the performers have to balance the stage so that they mirror each other’s movements to help convey the words they are saying.  When the protagonist moves in one direction, the players have to move accordingly to spread the action and ensure it is seen and interpreted by as much of the crowd as possible.

Similarly, Shakespeare’s plays were heavily based upon the Chain of Being, starting at the top with God and finishing with the peasants and serfs. Actors expressed where characters sat in this hierarchy by their interaction with each other. To understand this, the girls were given a playing card which they held on their forehead without looking at it. The value of the card related to their standing in the Chain of Being and they had to guess their place by the greetings and reactions of their classmates.

To underpin what they had learnt and relate it to the text they have been studying, the girls got into pairs to act scenes from ‘Twelfth Night’ using the blocking and character connection techniques they had been taught. From this world-first experience the girls came away with a greater understanding of the characters and plot of ‘Twelfth Night’ and a huge amount of confidence to put into their drama performances!

‘Performing on the stage gave me a huge thrill and made me feel like a real actor getting ready to perform. This experience was extremely memorable and I’m very thankful for the opportunity.’ – Charlotte Koerber

‘I learnt so much about what life was like back then and how the actors move on stage given they have a full circle to act for.’ – Addie Peebles

‘Mindblowing, magical and unique were some of the thoughts running through our heads as entered the Pop-up Globe. It definitely felt nerve-wracking when we took the stage but then a rush of adrenalin flows through you! It was very educational to learn about Shakespeare’s time and the structure and history of the Globe.’ Kaya Blackler and Tiffany Rodrigo



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