Theatre from the inside out

12 November 2014

Alice King-Farlow, Director of Learning at the National Theatre, talks about the new opportunities for schools at the heart of the world’s busiest theatre.

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We’ve always welcomed schools at the National Theatre (NT) But when the building opened on the South Bank in the 1970s, nobody envisaged that one day education would need a space – somewhere that learners of all ages could explore the extraordinary range of skills and activities that it takes to put a play on the stage.

So when we set out six years ago on an ambitious transformation of our building, space for education was top of the list. But what sort of space? We still welcome students to see plays at the NT – and now across the country through touring and our live cinema broadcasts – but our idea of an education in theatre is now so much wider. We want students to be able to experience design, directing, technical skills in sound and lighting, the crafts of costume and prop-making and scenic art. Playwriting, devising, reviewing and debate hone students’ creative and practical skills. We’re currently developing a project which teaches an entire term’s primary curriculum through the process of theatre-making.

Our architects came up with a brilliant idea. What if one of our three theatres could be opened up for education and training, outside production times? How might education be different if it was – quite literally – at the heart of the theatre and drawing on the skills of everybody who works in the National’s building?

Fast forward to today. We’ve just opened the National Theatre’s new Clore Learning Centre, generously funded by the Clore Duffield Foundation. There are two dedicated spaces for education, linked directly to backstage production workshops along a new public high-level walkway, which will open this winter. The Dorfman Theatre can quickly be reconfigured as a workshop space. We’ve already welcomed young people, teachers, school groups and adults, to discover stage management, playwriting, special effects make-up, stage combat, scenic art and the making of NT productions -- with the NT’s own expert staff and artists.

A new offer for London schools

We want schools from across the capital to be part of the life of the National Theatre, whether you drop in to see our backstage workshops as part of a trip to the South Bank, join us for an inspirational day, or take part in an in-depth project. Here are just a few of the new ways that your school could get involved:

Make Theatre Days for primary schools are an active and exciting introduction to theatre-making and the backstage world of the National Theatre, for years 4 to 6. Your class will spend a day with us, discover the secrets of our South Bank building on a backstage tour, and work with a professional artist. You can choose between puppetry skills, performance skills and design. As well as being a valuable way to enrich the curriculum, Make Theatre Days can contribute to Artsmark, be part of a school arts week, or help prepare students for a school performance.

Primary schools can also take part in in-depth projects. Places are still available for Making a Scene, inspired by our new production of Treasure Island. Classes will work with drama specialists and playwrights to develop their own scenes or short plays. A selection of the children’s writing will be given a staged reading by professional actors at the National Theatre at the end of the spring term. For years 4-6; please apply by 1 December.

There is also a wide-ranging offer for secondary school students, supporting the English and Drama curriculums at GCSE and A level, as well as BTEC Performance and Production Arts.

Next Stage days invite students to bring performance work-in-progress to the NT and develop it with specialist support from NT experts in voice and movement or set and costume design. Students from Leyton Sixth Form College worked on short scenes from Shakespeare:

“The thing I enjoyed most was the fact that we got to work with professionals. They gave me great tips that I’ll be able to use in my performance.” Student, Leyton Sixth Form College

“It’s great to get the students out of college to work in a professional theatre space. It has inspired them to raise their game.” Tutor, Leyton Sixth Form College

For English students, our Archive Learning Days use screenings of past productions, prompt books, costume bibles and production images to explore key productions and genres, from Shakespeare to the Gothic – based on the NT’s production of Frankenstein.

And there is plenty for teachers. You can join us for Teacher Previews, regular evenings at the NT to catch a first glimpse of a new production, meet other teachers who share your passion for theatre and take part in short workshops and talks with key members of the creative team and NT staff. For a more in-depth experience, look out for details of our Drama teachers’ conference in the February half-term.

Find out more

Details of all these projects and more can be found here

During the opening year of the Clore Learning Centre we want to welcome London schools to the NT who have not previously worked with us. We are offering many projects at reduced rates to encourage you to visit and sample the programme. Please email us for more details.

Everybody who works here at the NT had a door into the theatre profession opened to them in the past – often by an inspirational teacher. The National Theatre’s new Clore Learning Centre is a door into the world of theatre-making for your students. Now we want to open that door as widely as we can.

* (Images courtesy of the National Theatre. First image: Ellie Kurtz and third image: Ludovic des Cognets.)

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