Dramatising ideas

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

It’s Tuesday afternoon and I am sitting by the fireplace at 50 Church Road trying to explain to our Chinese guests – 13 students and two teachers from Chuansha School in Shanghai – the peculiarities of the English tradition of Afternoon Tea.  This is relatively straightforward, however, compared to my hamfisted attempts to describe the ups and downs of Admiral Nelson’s popularity before he secured it by dying at Trafalgar.  It’s a bit of a truism to say that things are as interesting as they are complicated once you start to delve into them, but there is nothing quite like trying to describe something central to your culture to people from a very different one and in comprehensible language to make you realise the limitations of language.

So, still wishing that I hadn’t got so embroiled in different pronunciations of “scone” or mentioned Lady Hamilton, I find myself later standing by the lake (on the Theatre side) watching the first of the five short devised shows that are part of the 6.2 Theatre Studies practical exam.  As this first piece involves two girls emerging from the lake, the cast have been hoping for the good weather to continue; alas, it’s chilly – well, alas from a comfort/ Health and Safety point of view, but a dankish twilight beefs up the Gothic in my view – breath is steamy and the piece’s conclusion (too grisly to recount) is helped by what the Scots call the dreich ambiance.

Now the audience is back in the Theatre: the relative warmth is reassuring, but the next four pieces will be in the best tradition of Bedales student-devised work: inventive, thought-provoking, rich in ideas, sometimes visceral and usually bold in execution.  Language plays its part, but is subsidiary to physical theatre.

The strongest thread running through these arresting pieces is of the complexity and pitfalls of human relationships, with the #MeToo movement and the objectification of women at its core.  Having grown accustomed to a school environment where students can use devised theatre to explore their feelings so fully, it is difficult to imagine a school where such intelligent, demanding and exploratory work does not happen.

Creativity benefits

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Amongst the good places to be in Britain, the National Theatre and the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon are up there.  What I see or do when in these places is almost secondary to being there.  Soaking it up in the National Gallery is a close second.

Why? Because being in places which celebrate the creative power of the human spirit heartens.  Knowing that this country once had the courage to provide the necessary subsidy to create a national theatre; it is daily fillip to see what a beacon our two great theatres are for work that makes us think about how we live.

This feeling is compromised by knowing what is going on in maintained schools at the moment.  Why are we squeezing creativity out of our schools?  Asks Director of the NT, Rufus Norris, in The Guardian.   I would add to Norris’ hard-nosed statistics about the benefit to the UK economy of the creative industries (which are of greater value to the UK economy each year than the automotive, oil, gas, aerospace and life sciences combined) the view that a major factor in keeping Brexit-sensitive highly paid jobs in London will be the strength of the capital’s cultural life, as well as the quality of its independent schools.

The practical benefits of the so-called creative industries in the world after school are mirrored in schools.  In thinking about what schools should offer, it is fun/scary to imagine a school stripped of something so central and life-enhancing that we currently do: so imagine a school with no music, art, dance, design or drama.  No bewitching glimpse yesterday of the forthcoming Dunhurst Blocks’ play (Curious Children) as the stage heaving with most of its 100+ actors brimmed with life; no Daniel Preece art master class on cityscapes; no stream of potential designers heading off to art and design schools;  no scholars’ concert; and no musical performances at assemblies and Jaws.  It’s a dystopian vision akin to imagining a school without Maths and Science.  In short, misery!

Here is Yeats to sum up:

Labour is blossoming or dancing where
The body is not bruised to pleasure soul,
Nor beauty born out of its own despair,
Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil.

O chestnut tree, great rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?

– W.B. Yeats Among School Children