With us, young people from all walks of life get the chance to shine through the unique power of the arts.About our impact
Each year thousands of young people from primary, secondary and SEND schools across the country unite to take on the challenge of performing Shakespeare for friends family and their wider communities. We hear so many inspiring stories from young people whose lives have been transformed by these opportunities. Read just a few examples below.
Student Ibrahim 16, Morpeth School, London explains how taking part in Coram Shakespeare Schools Festival has empowered him to make positive life choices
“Earlier this year, I spoke at an event showcasing the work of Shakespeare Schools Foundation at Speaker’s House in the Palace of Westminster. I was asked to explain why I thought Shakespeare Schools Festival was important for young people. My over-riding question was this: ‘Why wouldn’t you give young people this opportunity?’
Before I performed Shakespeare, I wasn’t confident in myself. I would hide in my shell, pretending to be who I wasn’t. I tried to please other people by doing dumb things – I’d be the kid who ate an ant to try and impress everybody. I felt like I was drawn to negativity. At school, I started hanging out with the wrong crowd. That led to hanging out with negative people outside of school as well. When people started getting into fights and ending up in hospital I thought, ‘That’s not nice. I don’t want to be a part of that’.
Shakespeare offered a way out. My first experience of performing Shakespeare was when I played the part of in Macbeth back in November 2016. Last year, I played Brutus in Julius Caesar. Performing Shakespeare is so much more meaningful than simply reading it out in class. I feel like I am inhabiting the character. All the time I’m thinking, ‘How am I going to speak these words in a way that shows my character’s emotions? How am I going to relate to the other characters on stage?’
Acting invites you to stand back and analyse your own emotions and responses. I feel like I have the confidence to do that now, rather than masking my insecurity. In order to play a role convincingly, you first have to understand yourself.
One of the best things about putting on a Shakespeare play is working with other people. It’s a nice feeling creating something together, building a performance. A real bond develops between cast members. At our school, everyone is welcome to take part – the only criteria are a positive attitude and a willingness to invest.
"I’m much more ambitious. It’s got me to focus on what I want in life."
Drama presents unique opportunities to shine that other subjects don’t. For example, last year one of the members of the cast really struggled with behaviour. In the play, we found a way to channel all his boisterous energy. He played the part of Strato, Brutus’s servant. In the scene where Brutus dies, he screamed “No!” with such raw emotion it was incredible. It felt like he was in his element.
Some people say Shakespeare is challenging. I say, life in general is challenging. If you don’t give young people a challenge, how are they ever going to learn? Even if you find it difficult, even if you make a mistake, you’re always learning. All the big themes – death and love and conflict – are there. There’s no point hiding them from young people. We’re going to discover them anyway for ourselves, so you might as well give us the chance to think them through in a safe space.
Taking part in Shakespeare has fuelled my creativity. In my spare time, I play guitar and write film scripts. Before, I used to think there was such a thing as ‘a creative person’ and I wasn’t one of them. Now, I have discovered that’s not the case. I’m much more ambitious. It’s got me to focus on what I want in life. I’ve decided I want to be a director – or else a drama teacher so I can give this amazing opportunity to other young people.”
Beecroft Garden Primary School
From meeting Royalty to delivering flash mob-style performances in front of special-guest audiences, for students at Beecroft Garden Primary School, Lewisham, taking part in our Festival has led to new and thrilling opportunities. Year 5 teacher Hannah Henson explains how Coram SSF is transforming lives of children at the school.
“Our school has taken part in the Festival every year since 2016 and the children absolutely love it – it’s the big school event that gets talked about the most. In November 2018, our Year 5 classes performed A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Greenwich Theatre. Before the Festival, most of the students had never even set foot in a theatre let alone performed on stage, so it was an incredible opportunity.
To start with, the children were nervous and daunted by the language of Shakespeare. During the rehearsals, they grew in confidence, learning how to deliver their lines skilfully and engage the audience through body language. The brilliant schemes of work provided by SSF also helped us to create an immersive experience for students, deepening their understanding through cross-curricular learning.
When it came to the big Festival night, the students delivered an impressive and confident performance. So much so that in March a group of five students from our school was invited to represent SSF at a special event celebrating the charity’s work at Speaker’s House in the Palace of Westminster. In front of an audience that included MPs and dignitaries, they staged a flash mob-style performance featuring Bottom and his friends. Despite the grandiose surroundings, the children took it all in their stride and did themselves proud.
Following this performance, they were invited to showcase the scene again – this time at the Foundling Museum at an event marking the announcement of HRH the Duchess of Cambridge as Royal Patron. As part of the event, our students even got to meet the duchess! They also chatted to a host of literary luminaries including Children’s Laureate Lauren Child, Dame Jacqueline Wilson and Lemn Sissay. When I told their parents, they couldn’t believe it!
It’s incredible to think how far some of the students in this group have come. For example, one of our actors has a history of speech and language difficulties. To see him perform, you would never know. He’s grown massively in confidence.
One thing that really inspired him was seeing his brother, who has autism, take part in the Festival last year. At first, his brother outright refused to take on the part of the Porter in Macbeth, but when it came to Festival night he absolutely brought the house down. As a result, his younger brother couldn’t wait to take part himself.
Every year, we find that working closely as a team helps children develop social and emotional skills. Before the Festival, the five children in this group weren’t really friends. They have quite different characters and they come from both of our Year 5 classes so wouldn’t normally mix. Now, they are all genuinely friends. It’s a snapshot of what happens across the year-group as part of the Festival, with cliques breaking down and new friendships forming.
Seeing children from other schools perform on Festival night also made a huge impression on our children. For example, there was a special school performing Julius Caesar and the actor playing the part of Mark Antony had his lines ghosted to him by another actor. Our children were hugely inspired by this. One child said that it made him realise that whatever you find difficult in life there’s a way to overcome it. He was scared of taking part in sports but after seeing this child perform he’s joined a tennis club and started playing football. It just goes to show how far-reaching the impact of the Festival really is.
For any school considering taking part I’d say, 'Go for it!' "
St Anne's Catholic Primary School, Knowsley
Teacher Laura Hodgkiss from St Anne's Catholic Primary School Knowsley explains how the Festival helped her shy and reluctant class come on leaps and bounds in both their confidence and their learning.
“We did the Festival last year for the very first time. We had a Year 5 class with very low confidence and we wanted to nurture their speaking and listening skills. They have always been a very quiet class – you’d ask a question, and no-one would put their hand up.
At the start of our Festival journey, I asked who wanted a speaking part and absolutely no-one volunteered. After a lot of coaxing, three children agreed to do roles where they said about one word each. It was hard work! In the end, I had to pull names out of a hat – and when I did no-one was happy!
However, I stuck with it. I used the Macbeth scheme of work provided by Shakespeare Schools Foundation as a springboard. They loved the discussion activity about who was most at fault – was it the witches, Macbeth or Lady Macbeth? It really got them going. Suddenly, everyone was super-engaged and wanted to voice an opinion.
Initially, they were very self-conscious about saying lines, but through the drama activities they started to get more comfortable. When it came to rehearsing the play, I realised they especially liked scenes where the whole cast were on stage at once – like in the big battle scene – so I tried to do this as much as possible. No-one felt on their own.
Half-way through the rehearsal process they were clamouring to take on bigger parts and more lines. They started to love the Shakespearean language – lines like, ‘turn hell-hound turn’ and ‘out, out damn spot’. I think they liked that the language
is a bit naughty. They also really liked the scenes with the witches especially the lines speech ‘double, double toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble’ and the bit where they chant ‘hand in hand’. They enjoyed the way Shakespeare played with the language. The children quote Shakespeare in their writing to this day.
The company workshop was brilliant. Seeing other children act made a huge difference. When they realised how good children could be, they raised their game. They realised that the ones who joined in most, stood out the least. So they all started joining in more and were so much better.
I saw a huge change in the children. For example, there was one girl who was incredibly shy and wouldn’t speak at all. On the night, there was a boy who was ill. I asked her to go on and say his lines for him and she just did it with no hesitation at all. Her confidence was sky-high.
Since taking part in the Festival, the class as a whole has been much more confident. I can’t wait to do it again this year!”
Find out how Coram SSF can open up extraordinary opportunities for your school: