Springing back to normal

By Georgie Nugent, Girls’ Houseparent and Teacher of Drama

Spring is here and we are back! Flat is full once more of music, laughter and lots of chatter. We are making up for lost time, but it is a lot to take on board and the students are working hard to take it step-by-step. To go from living within our own little bubbles at home in an established routine that works for each one of us, to being back within the heart of this vibrant community, is a huge gear change for everyone. 

We have worked hard to ensure the houses feel calm and welcoming, a place where there is space to breathe and relax amid busy days and to remember to focus on friendships and inclusion. The message to hand in devices to encourage better bedtime routines seems to have worked very well, with a collective understanding that it is in everyone’s best interests.

This first week back, we have had fun roasting marshmallows over the firepit (thanks to Head of Outdoor Work Andrew Martin for wheeling in barrow loads of logs) and hot chocolates in the flat courtyards, with the idea that reconnecting with our friends is at the core of getting back to normal. We have also been thinking about those members of our community that perhaps have had a difficult lockdown or who are still in lockdown all around the world.

Acting on the School Council’s feedback, the cooked breakfasts have been reinstated and received with glee by many of the students. The flat Charity Committees and Eco Committees are enjoying sharing ideas with each other to make our community and the world a better place. We are also delighted that the barriers within the year groups enforced by COVID restrictions last term have been relaxed and we can work and play in our year groups, united as a community. There is a sense of relief in the air and a feeling that we can dare to look forward and plan for a wonderful summer term.

Rehearsing in a pandemic

Teams rehearsals for the Spring Production well underway and filming has begun. Actors have been sent green screens and have sourced costumes with the guidance of the production team (and a few parcels en route to those who don’t have 1920s attire around their houses!) The editing team are already at work and the researchers are checking for accuracy. This image says it all. Our period choice was quite apt it would appear. Here, 6.1 student Elena gives us an actor’s perspective on the experience and how it feels to be involved in a lockdown project.

By Elena Belisario, 6.1
I’ve been performing since about three. Whether I was doing ballet, or singing in the choir, or acting in the school play, I always seemed to be on the stage. There was always this special thrill I got from being backstage and seeing the stage lights go up as I prepared to go on. So when I signed up for the Spring Production and went to that first Teams meeting, I really hadn’t expected that we would actually be doing it virtually, and that the ‘being on stage’ bit was going to be taken out of it. However, this experience has really helped me grow and appreciate how much the crew really play a vital part.

You see, being an actress, or being involved in acting, pre-COVID meant that you would rehearse, learn your lines, get your hair and makeup done by someone else and your costume made by someone else, and you would go on stage and act. The lights seemed to magically always work; the set had somehow magically appeared and, if it was being filmed for the parents, a video would magically appear on the school website or in your parents emails a few weeks later. Being involved in acting during COVID has made the realisation dawn on me that well, maybe, these things don’t just happen magically after all.

I have had to set up a green screen which people found take a surprisingly long time to iron. I had to record myself, thinking about the camera angles and setups and lighting. I had to find my own costume (which involved a lot of digging around my mum’s wardrobe) and I had to do my own hair and makeup (the 1920s bob is really a lot harder than it looks). All of this meant a lot more effort is required than usual, when the crew can do all of that for you. So this experience has really made me so appreciative of the crew and what goes on backstage whilst we actors are so preoccupied with ourselves and our performance.

It’s also taught me about making the most of every circumstance. When COVID first hit and then when schools shut for the second time, my personal reaction was complete meltdown. “All of these opportunities flushed down the drain, all of those memories we are missing out on!” I complained to my friends numerous times over the phone. Hayley and Joanne were real superheroes in the fact that they saw this as not an opportunity flushed down the drain, but an opportunity to do something different. To challenge ourselves and be resilient – that no matter what COVID throws at us, we can adapt and do something different. I have found that very inspiring.

The Spring Production is coming along very well: every rehearsal is exciting and I am so enjoying figuring out my character and learning how to cooperate with everyone online. I honestly can’t wait to see the end result and how all of our work turns out, and when the time comes, I hope that you enjoy watching it too.

This video gives you an insight into our Autumn production, ‘Constellations’ by Nick Payne, which was also delivered during the pandemic. This project was rehearsed and performed on site but adhering to social distancing measures, using duplicate casts across two bubbles to allow for student isolation. I hope you agree that it did not hamper creativity in the slightest and again showcases not only our students talent but their versatility and resilience in these times, which inspires us all.

“Nuanced and detailed” take on Nick Payne’s ‘Constellations’

This week, Block 5 and 6.2 students took part in a four-night run of this year’s Autumn production, ‘Constellations’ by Nick Payne. Due to ongoing restrictions, two duplicate casts of eight performed alongside dancers in the Theatre, with two of the performances livestreamed for parents at home.

By Isobel de Gier, 6.1

Watching Block 5 and 6.2’s nuanced and detailed approach to Nick Payne’s Constellations – aided by Hayley Cole’s directorial work – was a joy. Between the many interpretations of protagonists Marianne and Roland, played by the electric Ella Peattie and captivating Nay Murphy, there were multiple humorous moments. The play then quickly juxtaposed those comical elements with tender and heart-breaking scenes of the characters’ future selves.

The play masterfully toyed with light and shade, enrapturing its audience. The experience was immersive and the audience laughed, cried and became enraged alongside the characters – with every smile, laugh, or frown of the many versions of Marianne and Roland, the audience was enveloped deeper. This is not only a testament to the subtle and refined acting style, but the beautiful LED lit set, the bewitching dancing by Lucy Albuquerque and Mathilda Douglas and masterful directing. If you did not see the many parallel universes of Marianne and Roland, you really did miss out. 

By Aria Taheri-Murphy, 6.1

On Tuesday, the second cast of Constellations performed an amazing representation of raw love, shown through the perspective of many versions of Marianne and Roland. The audience watched the variety of ways their love unfolded in the different scenarios, however as the play reached its conclusion all the main plotlines merged into one story.

Not only were the actors amazing, but the set was incredible, set on different levels with small light-up hexagons beneath each level. These related to the hexagon projections across the stage. Projections of drawings and maths equations were used throughout the performance and as the audience began to understand the characters the hexagons became very significant. 

The dancing added an exciting new element, this too was socially distanced, but this did not affect the quality of their work. Two A Level Dance students performed throughout the play, expressing the characters’ frustration, love, grief, and pain. The actors clearly showed these emotions, however there were times where the dance could truly show the raw feelings the characters were trying to hide. Overall, the acting, directing, staging and choreography was amazing and created a hard-hitting love story which didn’t need to be shown physically, much like the National Theatre socially distanced performance of Lungs.

A break from tradition for Autumn production

By Hayley Cole, Head of Drama

Our Autumn Production this year is Constellations by Nick Payne, which will be performed on four consecutive nights from 7-10 December, with two performances livestreamed for parents at home. A two hander about a couple, their relationship, quantum physics and most importantly love. It follows their journey and the multiple universe theory which means we see the various outcomes of each stage in their relationship. Not exactly your traditional Christmas production, but we never produce traditional productions here.

In previous years our Autumn Production has involved students from the whole school, across all year groups, with a cast and crew totalling more than 50. We have devised our own work, chosen cutting edge musical theatre, Greek tragedy, contemporary texts and adapted work to honour the First World War. But this year, obviously, things are different. The safety of our students and staff is paramount but at the same time we wanted to celebrate the fact we are open again as a school, a creative school, and able to perform again in the theatre. Whilst our numbers are restricted, both on stage and in the auditorium, and social distancing rules must be applied, I didn’t want it to restrict our innovative approach, nor the students’ theatrical experience.

Having watched Lungs at the Old Vic during lockdown, I was inspired by the chemistry Matt Smith and Clare Foy showed on stage and the fact that the chemistry existed despite the metre plus distance between them. This led me to look at similar plays and that’s where I landed at Constellations, a play I have loved for some time but not found the right platform for. However, I needed it to be more inclusive and to give more opportunities to more students. Focusing on the original intention of the play, our interpretation shows the possibilities that exist to anyone anywhere and scenes are explored with different genders and languages as well as sign language. We see the multiple outcomes of this relationship which could have affected any two people, anywhere in the world. Two duplicate casts of eight perform the scenes and transition with dancers who explore the themes of bee keeping, endless love, quantum physics, past, present and future. 

So, whilst the COVID Christmas term has been challenging, it has by no means hampered out creativity and we look forward to sharing our work; in person with the student and staff body and virtually (via live streaming) to parents, next week.   

Learning from History – from Hitler to pandemics

By Magnus Bashaarat, Head of Bedales

On Monday evening, historian Tim Bouverie came to Bedales for our second ‘real live’ Civics of the term. It was Tim’s first live gig since lockdown, and he was visibly pleased to be speaking to a real rather than virtual audience. It was a socially distanced audience, but a well- attended talk, and showed Bedales living with COVID, and not cancelling.

Tim’s 2019 book, Appeasing Hitler: Chamberlain, Churchill and the Road to War was what he came to talk about, but the questions in the second part of the talk ranged far and wide. Was there any similarity between the democratic world’s approach to Germany in the 30s and democratic Europe’s current approach to China? To what extent does personality rather than political pragmatism drive the decision-making that elected leaders execute on our behalf? To what extent did public schoolboy rivalries drive geo-political decision making: Eden was an Old Etonian, Churchill an Old Harrovian, Chamberlain an Old Rugbeian (I made that last one up, but let’s look at the current Cabinet).

If Germany had ‘invaded’ Czechoslovakia in 1938 to annex the Sudetenland and then called a halt to its well established agenda of righting the perceived wrongs of the Treaty of Versailles, then Chamberlain would have been hailed as a hero, another world war averted, and his statue would be in Parliament Square, not Churchill’s. The appeasers would have been vindicated; the anti-appeasers cast into the dustbin of politics to write their memoirs in whatever was the acceptable equivalent for a shepherd’s hut in 1940.

History will judge our politicians’ reactions to COVID-19 similarly. Perhaps the lockdown sceptics will be vindicated; it was all a massive over-reaction to bad ‘flu’ and 10% of GDP was an unnecessary loss to the country. Or the COVID paranoiacs might feel, like Cassandra, that had their prophecies been heeded, the dead would be alive. Whatever position on the spectrum one chooses to adopt, there is evidence available to support one’s view. The weight of evidence doesn’t equate to the weight of argument, and its validity. Rather like the Brexit debate, the vehemence of commitment to a position is fast becoming a substitute for veracity.

Returning from long leave we’ve outlined our plan for two more closed weekends before our two week half term. I understand Churcher’s College, our close neighbours in Petersfield, have shortened their half term from two weeks to just one, and are operating the second week of half term as an online teaching week to have a sort of ‘semain sanitaire’ prior to the second half of term. This would go down like a rat sandwich, I know, at Bedales, amongst students and staff battling to keep it all together during these next two weeks. But it reflects the range of responses to COVID-19 restrictions that schools across the country are exercising.

Bedales’ current COVID restrictions aren’t as restrictive as those operated by some schools, and we’re positioned broadly in the middle of the spectrum. Our SAMBA II testing machine, which arrived on Thursday this week, should be transformative in how we can test students and speed up the awful and open-ended wait for the test result to arrive. And the wider school community of staff and their families can benefit from it too. Gavin Williamson’s avowed intent to keep schools open is predictably fatuous because illness, if it does strike in a school community, will mean teachers unable to teach, as opposed to students unable to attend.

If the dreaded 14 day isolation is visited on anyone over the next few weeks then Bedales parent Adrian Wooldridge’s book, The Wake Up Call: Why the pandemic has exposed the weakness of the West and how to fix it, would be a good read. As a global index, the bigger the state machinery: the lower the death toll.