The liveliest INSET yet!

6 July 2016

Greg Klerkx reflects on what was a perfect close to a well-attended series of INSETs this year.

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Our final INSET of 2015-16 featured two ‘stars’ of earlier sessions, theatre-maker Katharine James and musician Tara Franks, returning with some old favourites and new tricks for what was probably the liveliest – and certainly loudest! – INSET yet.

Katharine began the day with physical warm-ups then moved quickly into pairs work using half-metre wooden sticks balanced between index fingers, and which required pairs to work silently with each other to negotiate movement, creativity and other people in the room. It’s a classic drama exercise, Katharine explained, and can be powerful for building trust between children before doing project work and for exploring movement in response to music and other stimuli. She then used fragments of text from A Midsummer Night’s Dream to explore how to use voice, movement and the emotional energy of a given space to vary how the text is delivered and perceived.

As appropriate to the vagaries of a British summer, we then played with weather, exploring as a whole group the notion of sea, sun, wind and rain, creating and embodying the sounds and motions of these things. This led to small group work that produced a short presentation of the sound, motion and images found in one of a series of paintings depicting a strong sense of weather. Katharine’s session finished with a sight-reading of a poem about the sea that was fragmented into individual words for participants to interpret then reassemble as a new, collective whole.

Katharine said: ‘These are activities and exercises that have quite a few uses, but I’ve known a lot of teachers who use them to help students come to grips with difficult text, like Shakespeare. It’s what professionals do: when I’m learning lines, I’ll move around a room and play with different levels of tone and emotion, always speaking out loud. It creates for me a deeper meaning, and I find I both memorise and comprehend more easily.’

The afternoon’s session picked up from the morning, as Tara used Katharine’s weather images as stimuli for small groups to create their own musical interpretations of what they saw. The groups were then ‘conducted’ by participants to explore the different way these sound interpretations could come together to form a piece of music.

Before this, Tara showed everyone how even their names could become music: each person was asked first to say their name aloud to the group in an exaggerated way, perhaps emphasising strong vowels or consonants or the ‘shape’ of the name itself. Again in small groups, these names were woven together in a short performance. After each group had performed – to raucous applause – Tara pointed out that, without consciously knowing it, we had performed pieces that represented distinct musical styles including fugue (where a musical phrase is begun by one participant then picked up by others) singing a melody in unison, with different starting points, and improvisation (with clear rules for starting/stopping.)

The day’s final exercise involved two groups interpreting each other’s devised movement based on a series of words and phrases gleaned from the art images. This produced four very distinct musical performances with voice, clapping, stamping, a guitar and even a ukulele played by AND’s very own Shay Wilson! Sadly, Tara didn’t find an opportunity to get out her cello… next time!

Tara said: ‘So many teachers say to me, “I have no musical talent,” but that’s never true. We all have musical talent because we can all make sounds, or clap rhythms or stamp our feet. That’s where music starts, and these activities can be powerful starting points for building not only musical confidence, but confidence and self-esteem more generally.’

The epic musical creations made everyone more than ready for cake and coffee, and for excited conversations with participants in the Marketplace, which included Inspire Arts, Unicorn Theatre, and Jackson’s Lane. It was a perfect close to a lively and well-attended series of INSETs this year: we’re grateful to all facilitators, marketplace organisations and of course teachers for their enthusiasm and participation.

Stay tuned to the AND website for news of the 2016-17 INSET season, coming soon. In the meantime, have a wonderful and creative summer!

Find out more about the INSET programme here.

Download the drama workshop resource here.