We always love getting feedback from teachers and students involved in our competitions and programmes and would like to share the two emails below. We hope all our members, as well as our volunteer judges, coordinators, MCs and video editors, will read them as a reminder of how their support helps, and the difference they are making.
From Sarah Talbot, Director of Theatre Studies, Speech & Drama, Bolton School Girls’ Division
‘I am writing to let you know what a tremendous success the Performing Shakespeare competition has been. Fortunately, we have have been in a position to keep extra-curricular activities up and running, alongside academic pursuits since the start of the pandemic. By far the most rewarding and worthwhile experience I have shared with my students since the world turned upside down has been the Performing Shakespeare competition.
Perhaps because it bridges the gap between the development of performance and presentational skills, this competition has attracted students who might otherwise have given the drama department a wide berth. You will hear one of our competitors testify to this in her introduction – before performing a monologue from King John, she explains that she had never thought of herself as an actor before but was inspired to enter the competition because she recognised overlap between herself and her character. In the process of putting together her entry, her combined passions for history, literature and oracy have come to the fore. It has been heartwarming to note her burgeoning confidence – I am quite sure she would not have thought herself capable of performing Shakespeare six months ago.
Conversely, I have watched the “likely suspects”, breeze through the performance bit of their entry before “cutting their public speaking teeth” on the introduction component. While filming a few of the entries, I have found myself thinking, “this student should train for the Mace”. This is significant for lots of reasons but, from a personal perspective, I realise the competition has opened my eyes to the versatility of my students – after 15 years of teaching, I find they continue to surprise and impress me but only when faced with “stretch and challenge” opportunities, such as the Performing Shakespeare competition.
I would like to add that I consider the time frame central to the success of this competition. We launched before Christmas. In February, eight entries from well over 20 (twice as many as last year and far more than anticipated) performed to a select audience over Zoom. They received valuable feedback from our drama prefect. On the back of this event, three Key Stage 3 students and three Year 10 students continued, attending one-to-one coaching sessions on a weekly basis. Consequently, they had the opportunity to grow in confidence steadily over the course of a term. They have had time to get used to the idea that they are Shakespeare experts and actors and public speakers. Indeed, it has been wonderful to see them grow in this way.
Lastly, I would like to say how sorry I am that you haven’t been able to join us while we have been preparing our entries because this would have allowed you to see first hand what an impact it has had. One student in particular, sticks out in my memory. She had not taken off her face mask once since returning to school – she wears it in PE and games and had kept it on for all of the PSC rehearsals. She consulted her parents and agreed to take it off for as long as it took her to deliver her PSC entry to camera. When she’d finished, she was careful to replace the mask even before accepting praise. This serves as a reminder of what a scary time this is for our young people. This student had decided that the Performing Shakespeare competition was worth it – she removed her mask in order to give the best possible account of herself despite the risks she perceives all around her. It is moments like this which make me realise how powerful these learning experiences are – to transcend the horrors of recent times in order to engage with the competition is testimony to the vital work of you and your team. I am sure my students would join me in saying a big thank you. This opportunity, like the Mace and the Churchill has reminded us that a much brighter future awaits for us all.’
From Victoria Ward, Acting Head of Year 7, Dame Allan’s School, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne
‘We at Dame Allan’s love working with the English-Speaking Union. Each of its three secondary competitions is challenging and rigorous, and the variety of competitions interests a range of students.
What really makes the ESU stand out, though, is the level of thought and care they put into their work. Every competition is planned meticulously and thoughtfully, with a plethora of useful resources provided to help both teachers and students get to grips with what the competitions involve, as well as building on their debating and performance skills. The ESU’s whole team, whether those at head office or regional volunteers, is wonderful: they are friendly, helpful, kind and flexible, yet keen to provide the challenge that’s essential to help our young people develop as skilled debaters and performers.
The ESU has been key to the development of debating and oracy throughout every key stage at Dame Allan’s, and our students have felt empowered by participating in their events: they have helped us shape debating club into many students’ favourite extracurricular activity, and a number of students have gone on to debate at university level, as well as joining the Youth Parliament and Youth Council.
The Performing Shakespeare competition is a wonderful way to get KS3 students involved in expressing themselves through performance. While the Shakespeare element might seem intimidating at first, using the ESU’s resources and other actors’ performances to engage students really helps them see that the language is something to enhance their performances. I’ve been able to use it as a foundation for an inter-house competition, with which students from throughout the school have engaged keenly.
We very much look forward to working further with the ESU and participating in its events in the future.’