Shakespeare for kids – workshop (part 1)

Drama suitcase packed for re-telling "The Tempest"

Drama suitcase packed for re-telling “The Tempest”

Yesterday I had the chance to do an afternoon workshop with a group of 6-11 year olds, which was part of a holiday programme my university put together for the kids of their employees (“Campusferien”). They are looked after by three students and there is a different activity on each of the four days the programme covers. So I was day 1 “English theatre”. There were 17 kids, from grade 1 to grade 6 and one special needs kid who was slightly older. My plan was to re-tell “The Tempest” with them – which sounds ambitious, given the fact that German children at primary school don’t have that much English yet. They learn it from grade 1, but my impression is that the results are very diverse, probably depending a great deal on the teacher. So my plan was to introduce important words first, then tell them the story in English (with translations if necessary) and then let them re-enact it through tableaux. The first part went really well, I think. We played the “this is a…!” “This is a what?”-game with some props from my drama suitcase (ship, island, wand, crown, tray, bottle, fool’s cap (though the fool’s cap turned into a “warm cap” on the way round the circle….)). Then I had the align word-cards and objects, which worked fine. I asked them what kind of story these objects could be about and there were lots of ideas – in German of course – most of them involving a king, magic and messages in a bottle. I then told them that I would tell them a story that they would later act in and who the characters in the story were and showed them the word-cards: a king, a prince, a girl, a magician, a monster, servants, a spirit, a fool (or clown), an old man, and some bad guys. Next we played a round of “show me..” (a king, etc.) which went well, except that they didn’t quite get the idea of statues because they started walking towards me until I said “Freeze!” every time. Then we talked about emotion-words of which they (the older kids) knew quite a few even though nobody came up with “afraid” or “surprised” and then did a short emotion-walk (I’d put posters with the main emotions on the floor and they were to walk across them showing the feeling). At which point they became a bit wild but when we called them back to the circle to sit down again and listen to the story, it was ok. (I wanted to take a break here and should have but didn’t.) Then I started telling the story, having a list of characters in the background (and one of the caretakers pointed them out), the objects on the floor and always asking after a sentence or two what they understood. The older kids seemed to do pretty well, so I let them translate – for the younger ones. However, there was one 6-year old who said she didn’t understand anything… After half the story kids starting sneaking off – to the toilet, so we just took a break. After a few minutes, I finished my story and asked them if they knew it – they didn’t and I told them that it was by William Shakespeare. Most of them had heard of him already 😉 Now came the really theatrical part which was the one that worked least well. I handed out costumes and assigned roles and the idea was to re-create the story through tableaux. The problem was that I could only talk to 3-4 kids at a time and explain them the scene, while the rest was running around and sometimes the “actors” I needed joined them without noticing that it was their turn… So the re-enactment got a bit hurried and I finished earlier than I thought but concentration seemed to have vanished, so I called it a day. The students taking care of the kids said it was ok and I think they had enough things to do in playtime, so we packed up and I said goodbye to kids and students. While I was happy about how smoothly the first part went, there are surely some lessons to be learned from the slightly chaotic second part of the workshop! Such as…? That’s for the second part of this post!