A Q&A with... The Royal Shakespeare Company

Date Posted: 16/07/2013

We spoke to head of education open access programmes, Fiona Ingram from the Royal Shakespeare Company about the launch of Write Here Write Now with Matilda, and her passion for inspiring young people to enjoy Shakespeare.

Q: Please could you give me a brief overview on what the Royal Shakespeare Company education department does?

A: The RSC is a national theatre company, and we have a strapline which is about making theatre and Shakespeare vivid, accessible and enjoyable to young people and teachers across the country.

Our famous playwright is obviously William Shakespeare and every child in the country has to study his work. We want to ensure that that experience is an enjoyable one and that teachers have a love of teaching it. My job specifically is about creating work around the shows and I do things in both Stratford-upon-Avon and in London.

Q: Tell me a bit about Write Here Write Now with Matilda.

A: Write Here Write Now with Matilda is an interactive website encouraging students with creative writing and reading. With the production of Matilda the Musical, the writing process was very much a laugh. Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin have created this amazing award-winning musical and we wanted to make sure that students could be plugged in to that fun writing process.

Q: What do you provide to school groups?

A: I think as a national theatre company we need to make sure that we are speaking to schools across the country. One of the ways we can do that is through the web, which is an amazing resource. The Write Here Write Now website charts the process that this musical took to go on stage so it’s full of film-based interviews with Dennis and Tim, and extensive notes for teachers to use in the classroom.

Whether they have seen Matilda the Musical or not, teachers can support students while learning about Roald Dahl and literature. It can also inspire their own creative writing classes. Sometimes kids don’t find writing exciting, but this website really helps.

Q: What shows have you worked with other than Matilda?

A: We obviously do things around RSC shows. New shows which are non-Shakespeare will take place in the Swan Theatre and then there might be some new writing to work with. Wherever the RSC goes with a show, we try and attach educational work to it.

Q: Do you do have similar resources for the Shakespeare plays?

A: With Shakespeare, we have created a variety of educational online resources and lots of packs for schools. We’ve also, alongside the BBC, created Shakespeare Unlocked, which shows actors working on set. Students can watch a series of film scenes, with actors in rehearsal and then in performance – it’s quite a big thing for us.

We’ve also started to do webcasts of shows to schools on particular days, which broadcast to schools across the UK. We created one called I, Cinna who’s a character in Julius Caesar who gets killed off after about 20 lines. We’re also doing Richard II which stars David Tenant and this will broadcast live into schools from Stratford-upon-Avon in November.

Q: How do you help teachers prepare for trips?

A: We send out a lot of packs of educational resources prior to a theatre visit so teachers can prepare their students before they come. We also have a point of booking - we send out risk assessments to make coming to the theatre as easy as possible for school groups. We have various activities and tools that they can use, and we also offer teachers courses. Teachers can come along on a teacher training day where we’ll look at texts and plays which classes can enjoy studying.

Q: How do you make Shakespeare inspiring for students?

A: I really love Shakespeare myself. We have a manifesto which is called Stand up for Shakespeare and we call for three things. One is to stand up and do it – as actors do. Students can turn up to their first reading without knowing a play and treat it really badly. We say try it out; speak, find out what the characters are thinking.

The second thing is to go and see the play live. You don’t necessarily have to see just one film when you can actually go and watch a real production. See it live in a theatre and make your own decision about it.

Thirdly, we say start Shakespeare earlier. We start working with kids around the age of four. Those children don’t know it’s hard because no one’s ever told them, and there are some great stories to enjoy. Start working with them at a younger age, and with their teachers to get them really inspired in what Shakespeare has to offer them.

Q: Do you have anything new for educational groups on the horizon?

A: We do a lot of teacher training and we have a big national programme of work that goes around the country so we’re trying to develop that. We work with over 2,500 teachers a year so we’re quite a big influence. We’ve also got a book called the RSC Toolkit for Teachers which we’ve sent into every single secondary school in the country.

Our next big thing is Richard II. How do we help teachers teach enthusiastically about a play when some of them don’t even know it? How can we help teachers to prepare students, and how do we make it a really good experience? The live web broadcast is obviously a major thing. The other idea is that on the day, the kids can send in messages to David Tenant and they can ask him questions to get a bit more involved.

Useful contact:

0844-800 1113 (Educational ticket hotline)

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