Now here’s an unusual partnership. Reveal Theatre Company (RTC) has teamed up with Keele University as a theatre company in residence on its Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) course.
RTC is a professional production company established in 1997 with 13 shows under its belt along with a healthy education and outreach programme. The PGCE is the one year qualification taken by almost all trainee teachers who have completed a degree in another subject such as history or English.
And it is the English and history PGCE students at Keele with whom RTC is working mostly, although it has also been involved with other subject areas such as geography, information and communications technology and modern foreign languages.
So what precisely have they done? Earlier this year RTC performed They Called it Paschendale at sites around Ypres in Belgium - with support from Keele University and Creative Partnerships Stoke on Trent. A professional documentary play in nine scenes for Belgian residents and tourists, the show consisted of the testimony of Great War soldiers alongside newspaper accounts, poems and the words of the King devised by participating actors such as Dominic Meir, Sean O’Callaghan, and Kevin McGreevy directed by Robert Marsden. 20 PGCE students from Keele were there too.
The idea was to allow students to experiment with creative ways of teaching history. The Belgian residency was the culmination of a year’s work with RTC and storyteller, Maria Whatton. They tried out, and made discoveries about, creative learning and creative techniques including role play, ‘mantle of the expert, documentary and verbatim theatre.
It certainly goes down well with the students. Abby Price, a trainee history teacher at Keele, for example says: ‘I have found the whole experience extremely useful for classroom practice. Having tried some of the drama strategies with pupils in my placements [in schools] I have understood how effective drama can be in the history classroom.’ And if Price’s response means that this approach will filter down into the classrooms of the future as people like her take jobs in schools that can only be a good thing.
RTC has been working with Keele University for three years although the 2008/9 academic year was the first time the relationship had been formalised as a residency. Last year the company worked with PGCE English and History students for a year creating characters from Renaissance Florence. The finale of that work was The Florentine Narrative which involved the trainee teachers responding in role to the theatre that they saw and undertaking tasks around the city.
All very creative and totally in tune with the way teachers are now expected to operate. Since the 1999 National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education (NACCE) report there has been a growing requirement that teachers should work and teach creatively and initiatives such as Compelling Learning Experiences along with the pressure to make lower secondary school lessons sparkier and more imaginative.
So the RTC/Keele partnership is very timely. Marsden, RTC co-director and guest lecturer at Stafford University Drama Department, is hoping that other universities running PGCE courses and other theatre companies will follow suit. ‘We think this model could be replicated in other PGCE delivery organisations across the UK’ he says, adding that ‘Practitioners at RTC and academics at Keele are both writing papers on creative learning and the way this partnership works.’