Head of Drama, Michael Glen outlines the Covid-beating can-do approach his team is bringing to plays and performance at Harrodian this autumn
Harrodian has good news for those of us pining for a dose of the live theatre that Covid 19 has deprived us of for six months and more. School plays – always an essential and admired ingredient in Harrodian’s extracurricular programme and its character – will be going ahead this year, despite restrictions that confine contact between pupils to year-group ‘bubbles’. Rehearsals are under way for a festive production of A Christmas Carol (seen in rehearsal top and below) to be staged by a 14-strong cast of 13s (Year 9) and directed by Mr Sugarman in the second week of December. The Christmas production will be followed in February by Dr Faustus with an ensemble of 20 made up of both 15s pupils (Year 11) and Sixth Formers.
Rehearsals are under way for a festive production of A Christmas Carol by the 13s to be followed in February by Dr Faustus perfomed by an ensemble cast of 15s and Sixth Formers
Inevitably, the necessity of ensuring that all rehearsals and performances are safe and meet government social distancing guidelines has added a new complexity to the demanding logistics of planning, casting, rehearsing and staging a play. But Harrodian Head of Drama and Dr Faustus Director, Michael Glen, says that he and his Drama department team were always sure that the effort involved would be worthwhile. ‘The plays are so important to the school so we felt it would be very sad to do nothing,' he explains. 'We felt we had a duty to try to make something happen that adapted to the moment and the response of the pupils has been typically enthusiastic.’
Embarking on a school play under pandemic conditions requires extra creativity and lateral thinking as well as extra hard work.
Embarking on a school play under pandemic conditions requires extra creativity and lateral thinking as well as extra work. Thanks to the 'bubbles', unlike many Harrodian productions, A Christmas Carol only includes pupils from a single year group, the 13s, but Mr Glen has planned the Dr Faustus production so that two separate bubbles can take part. ‘We’re working with a a special ‘distanced staging’ plan so that the 15s and the Sixth Form bubbles can rehearse and perform the play while safely staying apart,’ he explains.
For all this resourcefulness, good fortune will be required to deliver the live productions everyone is hoping for. The goal for Christmas Carol is to stage three performances in the Harrodian Theatre 'as a Christmas treat' early in December, each for a different year group audience. But Mr Glen is aware that the unpredictability of the pandemic may yet force a change of plan. ‘There’s always a danger that pupils drop out because they need to quarantine or that something else happens that requires us to rethink but when we embarked on this we knew that the production might not reach its audience in exactly the way we wanted it to,’ he says philosophically. ‘If we have to stream the plays or film them and broadcast them later, so be it. Whatever happens, I’m sure that everyone involved will learn something new and gain maturity from the experience of taking part. The working process really counts for more than the final performance.’
Everyone involved will learn something new and gain maturity from the experience of taking part. The working process really counts for more than the final performance.
Michael Glen, Harrodian Head of Drama
Extracurricular Drama is clearly alive and kicking at Harrodian but what of the everyday practical work in lessons that underpins the success of school productions as well as Harrodian's consistently strong academic performance in Drama and Theatre Studies? It's true that for the moment at least, as studio spaces are not available, for pupils in the 8s, 9s and 10s (Years 4-6) Drama is largely taking place in the classroom. 'We have had to adapt with our Prep Drama classes,' admits Mr Glen. 'But there's plenty of acting and performing going on and we're also taking the opportunity to look at areas such as radio plays and puppetry and to bring the focus onto important vocal skills such as diction and projection.
Otherwise, thankfully, for all age groups from the 11s up, practical Drama work is carrying on largely as normal. Importantly, GCSE and A Level students have been able to make good progress preparing the practical work for next year's exams. The accompanying pictures show one exciting workshop which took place in the Theatre when year 11 students were busy working with Mr Sugarman on ideas for their group work for their GCSE Drama practicals and another in the auditorium in which four Sixth Form Drama students made striking use of four white umbrellas as versatile props for their A Level group piece.