LSW: Junior Inter-ACT - An Inter-Active Interchange Illustrating Immediate Rewards for Both Youths and Performing Artists:-
There is no more crucial LSW project than the Junior Inter-ACT. Thrillingly launched on Shakespeares 435th Birthday, 23rd April 1999, the inaugural modified Workout for youths (in this case six to seven year olds) was held in the Queens Road Library. Twelve LSW members, professional actors all, faced a class of thirty students from the Gospel Oak School in a session of great joy. That this was so was shortly to be further evidenced in a letter from Andrew Beeching, who kindly organised the undertaking on behalf of the library. I can think of no better way to celebrate Shakespeares birthday than to be able to pass the joy of the Bard's language; the fearless vigour of the universal vision of this, the ultimate commercial playwright, on to a fresh generation. By the conclusion of this particular undertaking, Shakespeare was indeed a friend to these youths. That there was a need for an LSW: Junior Inter-ACT programme was clear.
During the late morning celebration, with sunlight suitably streaming through the library's large glass plate windows, the Gospel Oak School pupils cheered as two LSW Junior Inter-ACT members rehearsed a brief segment from Venus & Adonis, (which they, themselves, had not previously seen.) The children took rapt delight in their active participation in the performance of this rarely performed piece of verse. Not being told that it was, 'dense' and 'difficult' they met it head on as a piece of entertainment. Similarly, they thrilled in the opportunity to perform their own WitSlings (original responses in iambic inspired by a line of Shakespearean verse) which they had created in tandem with the LSW: Junior Inter-ACT professionals on hand. Earlier on they had revelled at the prospect of being allowed the freedom of insulting their elders by choosing one word from three different columns in the Shakespeare Insult Kit. How to end the session? It was after all Shakespeare's birthday. A treat was in store. I had, the previous Sunday at LSW, commissioned new lyrics to the tune of Happy Birthday from the gifted poet and LSW member Isabel Barbuk. Isabel rapidly, as she is wont to do, spun a three verse celebration of the Bards vitality which would speak to the youngest of hearts. Everyone, young and old alike found great rapture in the singing of them, adding in the third go round a final chorus in joyous harmonics. Still, I knew another treat was in store: As the session drew to its close I turned to Peter Kenny, an LSW member, RSC veteran, member of the BBC Radio Drama Company, and, most tellingly here, an extraordinarily gifted and much lauded counter tenor of extreme purity. I explained to the kids that Shakespeare, himself, might very well have heard music such as this sung in exactly this manner. I then introduced Peter. You know they will laugh, he had told me beforehand. I had said at the time that I would be surprised if they did. I should have put money on it. They didnt laugh. They were enraptured. Indeed, they were so mesmerised that they insisted on three encores. An hour and a half had melted into a minute. Whens Shakespeare coming, the kids wanted to know as they were queued up to be led out of the door. The LSW: Junior Inter-ACT adventure had begun.
However, it was to be the next session of the LSW: Junior Inter-ACT programme, on Friday, 16th July 1999, which was to lead to what has become a lasting relationship, cementing the on-going union between LSW and the North Westminster Community School. A letter from the teacher who organised this original foray, Susie Campbell, herself the Artistic Director of the much lauded Open Hand Theatre Company, clearly paints the effect that LSW: Junior Inter-ACT has had on a wide variety of students at the School. Susie's letter was written following a second session of the LSW: Junior Inter-ACT programme, (a regular schedule now being under way) but our inaugural effort had taken place under the kind auspices of the Westminster Arts Council and was registered as an event in their extremely vital LEAP Festival. Both LSW and the Open Hand Theatre Company had taken part in the LEAP Festival's inaugural season the year previous and it was testament to the success of the Westminster Arts Council's incentive that here was a prime embodiment of two visions working together for a similar goal. We were thrilled that Eddie Shelton, the LEAP Festival Officer was able not only to attend, but to actively participate in the LSW: Junior Inter-ACT programme. Our most recent session, on Friday, 3rd March 2000, was a truly bliss filled undertaking. I was delighted to receive an e-mail from one of the participants, a professional actress, Beverly Baillie, the following day, expressing her joy at being included in the LSW: Junior Inter-ACT programme. I was especially delighted that Beverly was able to share a unique perspective in that she had previously taught as a supply teacher at the North Westminster Community School. Happily she has agreed to let me share this communication with you, here.
On this occasion a team of twelve professional actors, LSW members all, celebrated in union with thirty North Westminster students ranging in age from eleven to fifteen. The prime difference between this outing and that with the Gospel Oak school was the fact that children were drawn from a vast number of differing nationalities. Susie commented that she had never seen such a large group of students, especially ones of such a tender age, so entirely engaged. My own attention was drawn to the fact that it was obvious that the LSW performers themselves in many instances were as intrigued and excited as their targeted charges. Here, Shakespeare was the glue which stirred and fused the melting pot.
Again, LSW's celebratory union was a wholly interactive one. Amongst our number we were delighted and honoured to have, Barry Morse, himself a youngster of 84, who, outside of his long and hugely celebrated career on Broadway, in the West End and upon the world's stages, was immediately recognised by the adults in the hallway for his award winning performance in 'The Fugitive' on television and by the kids for having been a chief officer on 'Space 1999', now it seems in frequent syndication. Barry thrilled at the eager enthusiasm of the youngsters for Shakespeare.
"I'm intrigued," Mr. Morse exposited, "to see so many young people for whom English is their second, or indeed third language, responding so immediately to texts which many native speaking adults might find troublesome. It is a lesson to us all: A lesson in universality." Once again our celebratory union had been a wholly interactive one.
The LSW: Junior Inter-ACT intercourse on all levels is wholly sincere; immediate. The elements first attempted with the Gospel Oak School again proved their worth and a few new angles were thrown in to keep the undertaking entirely fresh for all present. One can rest certain that when these youths come next to meet Shakespeare, be it at school, in the theatre, or, perhaps on an interactive cd-rom, they will do so knowing that he is to be enjoyed, not feared.
If the LSW: Junior inter-ACT programme can do nothing more than introduce and enforce that concept, then it will have accomplished an important objective.
Another incentive for the LSW: Junior Inter-ACT commenced in April 1999. LSW, again represented by a team of 12 professional performers and generously operating under the kind auspices of the Victoria and Albert Museum by virtue of the esteemed British Theatre Museum, long a leader in specialist training seminars for the youth of the United Kingdom and around the world, celebrated a Workout with students from throughout the UK and Ireland. These young people, averaging at approximately eighteen years of age, were in London during an Easter Break from their A-Level studies for a special week of theatrical enterprises. Each had a special and determined eye towards the potential possibilities which entrance into a Drama Schools or a course at a University specialising in Dramatic Literature might bring. This exuberant group of young men and women filled to capacity the stage of the British Theatre Museum's beautiful Studio Theatre.
Each young man and woman cherished the interactive opportunity to actively toil immediately alongside working professionals, some of whom were only a few years older than themselves. One, Audrey Leybourne, many decades their senior, had actually toured with Sir Donald Wolfit, the actor on whom Ronald Harwood modelled the character of 'Sir' in this play, 'The Dresser'. It was testament to the success of the enterprise that Audrey simply seemed another member of a tight ensemble. "I thought it was brilliant," she exclaimed into my answering machine later that day. In every sense it was a joyous and important communion.
Plans are afoot for future co-operative ventures. For further information on the LSW: Junior Inter-ACT programme or to gain answer to any queries you may have regarding its premise, please send an e-mail or contact us otherwise. We will be delighted if you do. Together, we can continue to make a positive difference.
A Dream Enhanced