Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Interview with Paul Forster, Intermission Theatre in Education: Innovators in E-Learning Series

Encouraging students to update Shakespeare for their new, urban contexts has been encouraged in theatre and in film. Baz Luhrman's Romeo+ Juliet, Gus van Sant's My Own Private Idaho immediately come to mind. It is doubly exciting to see students encouraged to update Shakespeare, make the ideas and concepts their own, and to do so in a hybrid approach that blends immersive and interactive performance with online interactive activities. London's Intermission Theatre in Education is doing just that.  Welcome to an interview with Paul Forster, Director of Education for Intermission Theatre in Education

Intermission Theatre in Education, London
Paul Forster:
We deliver Shakespeare plays with a modern twist, using urban language and modern themes to engage with a young, modern audience. 

We realised that there were other ways to engage with a modern audience, via technology. Being a bit of a geek myself I started to research what Shakespeare E-learning resources were available for secondary school age and up. There was simply nothing available of any substance or quality. So we decided to develop our own resource.

We acknowledge that everyone likes to learn in their own way. There are three main types of learning styles; auditory, kinesthetic and visual. At ITiE we recognise that young people like to learn in different ways, our resources reflect this and we have games, exercises and tasks that will suit a variety of students needs. Most people learn best through a combination of the three types of learning styles, but everybody is different. 

Auditory Learners: Hear
Reciting information out loud and having music in the background may be a common study method. Other noises may become a distraction resulting in a need for a relatively quiet place. Auditory learners would rather listen to things being explained than read about them. 

Kinesthetic Learners: Touch
Kinesthetic learners process information best through a “hands-on” experience. Actually doing an activity can be the easiest way for them to learn. Sitting still while studying may be difficult, but writing things down makes it easier to understand. 

Visual Learners: See
Visual learners learn best by looking at graphics, watching a demonstration, or reading. For them, it’s easy to look at charts and graphs, but they may have difficulty focusing while listening to an explanation. 

These three styles of learning are what we have built our E-learning around.

We have a range of activities on our site but the first page you are greeted with is The Gateway Page 

This page represents our first touring production Romeo and Juliet. 

The gateway is the portal and home to all of our games. Each room is interactive and contains searchable objects which once clicked on opens up and explanation page which tells you about the game, information or activity that you are about to play. 

Each activity is different below, we see Juliet's diary, each character had their own diary giving an account of the play from their own perspective. This helps young people understand the story, themes and what the characters go through on a personal level, such as why they make certain decisions and how other people's decisions affect them. We want young people to step into someone else's shoes to see what affects their own decisions have on other people.

This is not just about Shakespeare, this is about life skills, we have cantered our games around the curriculum subjects of PSHE (Personal, social and health education), English lit and language, Drama, Music and Religious Education. PSHE covers those life skills young people need to learn as well as substance abuse, violence, gang culture etc. Our modern adaptations of Shakespeare's plays deal with these issues so our E-learning reflects that.

We have many video exercises such as the police interview. This game centres around the death of Mercutio. The main protagonists are interviewed by the police to find out who killed Mercutio. In the game you play the game from the point of view of the interviewee. You are always presented with a question in which there are two answers, one is the truth and one is a lie, each one leads you down a different route, there are various outcomes depending on your answer. The final page will always direct the young person to government websites or information regarding the laws surrounding knife crime  (which is how Mercutio is killed). The games learning objectives are to encourage informed decision making whilst cementing the story of the play in the young person’s mind.

'Police Action II' 

How about a bit of fun? If you have ever had a workshop on Shakespeare then you may have done the exercise where you insult each other using Shakespeare? I have always loved this exercise, it allows you to play with Shakespeare's language and have fun with it, we often find that opening with this game breaks down the barrier that 'Shakespeare is really hard' and promotes playfulness. I wanted young people to enjoy the same experience online so we created a randomiser that puts together Shakespearean insults, we also made a 'Shakespearean Complimentor', which gives you encouraging and humorous compliments.

Hip hop or Shakespeare? This is a fantastic knowledge game. You are presented with a quote and you must decide if it is a popular Hip hop lyric or a quote from Shakespeare. We do this because again it brings the world of Shakespeare into our modern world. If young people can closely relate to a subject such as the language of Shakespeare then it becomes easier to understand and easier to relate to. It also makes the connection between Iambic pentameter and the use of this in rap lyrics. If we can show young people that their rap idols use a form of language that stems from Shakespeare then it becomes easier for them to understand it.

We are currently touring Verona Road, which is inspired by Romeo and Juliet

Instead of the Montagues and Capulets we have South and East side, two feuding London gangs. Postcode rivalry is the main theme but also covers knife crime, love and loyalty and forgiveness. The themes are in the original play but we have brought them into the modern world.

We have Wasted (Julius Caesar) which is the ultimate knife crime play, 

Ring of Envy (Othello) Othello is an up and coming boxer. 

The play is about social media  and text messaging being used to manipulate and bully. The playground (A Midsummers night dream) in which we tackle substance abuse, Puck has the lovers smoke weed which confuses them and messes up their relationships.

We cannot say that young people relate to one play more than another. Each stands on its own as an educational and inspirational piece of theatre. What makes the experience more inspiring and different from other theatre in education companies is that we only offer peer to peer learning.

Our company of actors is made up young people at risk from some of London's toughest and most affected boroughs. Some of our young people have lived through the very themes we tackle through our work. Yet our young people have managed to leave their past lives behind and make themselves a better future. Our audience members leave feeling truly inspired by our young actors, we leave them with hope.

This resource will be free to use and will be available in a few months time. We will be having a grand launch event in London and if you are able to attend that would be amazing.

E-Learning Queen:  Thank you, Paul, for an inspiring interview. The E-Learning Queen definitely wishes to attend the launch. After all, it is understood that Corgis are quite welcome in England (especially in certain palaces). We will try not to nip a Beefeater. 

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