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Craigie College of Education : Children's Theatre Project

Drama and Theatre at Craigie College of Education, Ayr: Children's Theatre Project.

Recollections of a workshop "character"


The Initial Project

I joined this project shortly after matriculating at Craigie College in 1971. I had previously joined the college Theatre Group and had chosen Speech and Drama as my Special (teaching focused) Subject on the three-year diploma course so this was a natural progression. I was mainly interested in the technical side of theatre but felt that it would be valuable experience to spend some time performing and that the Children’s Theatre experience would be of benefit in my teaching career also.

My first experience was when I attended the preparatory meeting one Friday afternoon after my classes had finished. This description covers most of the meetings that we had at this time in the project’s development.

There were about ten students in attendance and a story was selected for performance on the following morning. There seemed to be about half-a-dozen stories in the repertoire and all the regulars were very familiar with all of them. Parts were given out – this was more by body-shape and experience than any other consideration. The tallest person would play the giant, for example.

My first part was as a villain’s assistant where I had only to do what I was told and look evil. We then walked and talked our way through the story, checking locations in the Drama Studio, ensuring that the lighting was appropriate and making sure that everyone knew what to do. We also set out specific scenery – stage blocks, hessian screens etc. This usually did not take very long. However, if a particular play had not been performed very often then more time may be needed to sort out some details. Some of these plays were as follows:

Pong, the Chinaman
Sinbad the Sailor
Stanley and Livingstone
Gladys Aylward and the Inn of the Sixth Happiness

After the walk-through, the actors selected costumes and found props. David Crouch checked on the lighting and sound effects. The meeting was then closed.

On the morning of the performance, we met early enough to prepare everything and await the arrival of the children. I remember doing warm up exercises, particularly in winter, such as square-bashing to the sound of Souza marches played at a very high volume.

When the children arrived they were met by cast members who were not needed at the start of the play. They were prepared for the morning’s event and then had the situation explained to them by the leader. Alternatively they would see a short prologue during which a problem would be set. The solution of the problem would be impossible to find without the help of the students. Stanley, for example, needed people to help him carry his provisions; Pong was always getting things wrong so needed people to keep him out of trouble. Gladys needed dozens of Chinese children to lead across the mountains.

The children were then led from one adventure to another. They were captured, imprisoned, shipwrecked and made to work at a variety of jobs. They managed to escape from all unfortunate situations and always succeeded in helping the leader win through. At the end of the performance they were thanked and supplied with paper, paint and brushes. The leader asked them to paint pictures of their adventures which they did until they were taken home by their parents. Members of the company would talk to individual children about their experiences and the feedback was important when reviewing the success of the morning’s work.

The company then cleared the studio, replaced costumes and props before repairing to a local hostelry (Christina's Bar) for sustenance and an opportunity for debriefing.

Script provided by Ken Walker,
Bangkok, 2011

Ken Walker

Ken was involved the the Children's Theatre Project throughout the 1970's.  Subsequently, he moved to Hong Kong (in August 1980) to take up a career as a teacher in the colony. He moved to Bangkok in 2004, where he teaches English in language schools.

Ken was an active member of the technical team supporting Compass Club and Ayr Intimate Opera productions in addition to his work in Children's Theatre.   As a technician, Ken worked on the Ayr Intimate Opera productions of Madam Butterfly, Sandrina and West Side Story.  He also appeared in a number of productions at Craigie College.

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Drama and Theatre at Craigie College of Education, Ayr: Children's Theatre Project.

Recollections of a workshop "character"


The Project is Developed

After a while we decided to add a new play to the repertoire. This took more planning but followed the same format. We felt a Western setting would provide plenty of opportunities for funny accents, exciting situations and over-acting.

Synopsis:

Pappy, a grizzled old-timer finds gold and has the claim stolen by a villain. The children agree to help him and his daughter, Elly-Mae. After many adventures there is a shoot-out and Pappy gets shot in the back by a low-down sidewinder. However, he recovers in time to lead a hoe-down.

This format was played to a different group of students each week and we eventually decided to try working with the same group of children over several weeks. The basic format would be the same but some actors would have recurring roles throughout the project. The story was called the Magic Crystal and involved collecting a magic crystal in a fantasy land.

I played The Man in Black who could be called from time to time to help the children when they were in serious trouble. He played a magic pipe (actually an alto recorder) and his signature tune was ‘Serenade to a Cuckoo’. I once wrote a detailed version of the story but it is now lost as it was written in pre-personal computer times.

The actual crystal was constructed from a transparent plastic construction set found in, and returned to, the Infant Department at Auchinleck Primary School where I worked at the time. The crystal looked very effective when lit from below. We were able to change leaders during this project but it was felt that the Man in Black should always be the same as it would provide some continuity for the children.

An important feature of these extended adventures was the preparation of a map which would help the children see the possibilities available and involve them more in the decision-making. The first one I made was a picture looking through the window of a castle. A road leading from the castle could be seen passing through a variety of places, some good and some scary, and leading to the place the children needed to get to.

The next map was a more ambitious circular format (so that more children could sit round it and see what was on it) which depicted a fantasy land. It featured such places as the Rainbow Mountains, the Forgotten Ferryman and the Priest’s Ruin. Another map was double-sided with holes in so that paths could lead from the good side to the bad side. These stories allowed for flexibility and meant that we often had to have several scenarios ready depending on which path the children wanted to take.

The final Drama Studio activity I remember was one in which we built up the group of children to the point where we felt that they could function without an adult leader. Although I cannot remember the storyline, I particularly remember this as I was the last adult left with the group and was trying to engineer a situation where they would kick me out. I made myself as objectionable as possible but was unsuccessful in this. I therefore clutched my throat, cried out "I've been poisoned". and died. I was carefully moved out the road and my glasses which had fallen off, were carefully tucked under my arm. A small voice in my ear asked if I was comfortable.

The last development in which I was involved occurred when I was working as a full time teacher. The Speech and Drama department decided to take a Children’s Theatre project around primary schools in Ayrshire. I was able to be involved thanks to the forbearance of my head teacher at Auchinleck, Sandy Nelson.

The story again followed the same general format but without the lighting resources. I played a teacher involved in a new school history project whereby a time machine would enable pupils to see actual historic events from the safety of their schools. However, things go wrong and we are transported to the actual events and become involved. Eventually the teacher manages to bring the children back to Ayrshire and all is well. The time machine itself was built from a recycled transistor radio found in the Drama Studio props store.

There were many people involved in Children’s Theatre over the years. The names I remember are as follows:

Doris Macleod, Irene Bailey, Gillian Murray, Sheena Gordon. Janet Gimson, Kate Longmuir, Richard Pugh, Carlyle Murray, Quintin Greenall and Judith Stephenson.

I can remember other faces but not the names – I’ll have to check through programmes to remind myself.

Script provided by Ken Walker,
Bangkok, 2011