Summer School 2015
“Putting It Together”
When we began our first Berkeley Summer School programme in July 2013, little did we imagine or anticipate how it would grow in popularity to the numbers attending this year or that the work the children produce would be of such a high standard and so imaginative. We had always hoped the benefits of attending summer school would be far reaching in terms of enhancing literacy and numeracy levels whilst developing imagination and self-esteem, but in reality it has achieved so much more and everyone involved knows that for four weeks of the summer holiday something magical happens, which transports us all on a journey of joy and discovery.
Our theme this year was “Putting it Together” and that is exactly what we did with even more opportunities and challenges for everyone involved. Executive Headteacher, Kevin Prunty agreed to extend the offer to children in year 3 as well as years 4 & 5 and a number of year 6 children asked to return for the 3rd year running resulting in approximately 100 children taking part in the four week programme.
I was delighted that many leaders from the original team were able to join us again and we welcomed three new practitioners: Hattie, a theatrical puppet maker, Lynne′, a very experienced theatre arts practitioner, Harlee a song writer and lyricist plus Deepak returning from the first year to lead on the drama. In addition, Ashwini, a former student from Cranford Community College now at university studying performing arts, volunteered to work alongside the team.
The team’s diverse talents and experience offered amazing opportunities to extend the learning for the children and as you would expect, they wanted it to be bigger and better than before, so we decided in addition to the final production we would create our own Summer School music album and video. To this end we recruited the skills of Nadine Lee, a music producer from EMUSIK Ltd who taught the children how to use a music technology package and record their own original songs, all of which went into the album.
Literacy and Numeracy have always been key factors when devising the programme and this year was no exception. After much discussion we decided to create the storyline around literacy and numeracy as characters and in doing so create a world where every character had something to do with either literacy or numeracy. That was our starting point and from there the world of “Kindalania” evolved.
As with previous years, the children were divided into four groups of mixed ages named Aristotle, Shakespeare, Pythagoras and Da Vinci. We adapted the way we worked to accommodate the additional challenges with the album and the video and began by working in small groups on the students’ original song, either writing a song about numeracy or literacy or about being at summer school. This they then recorded with Nadine. Meanwhile the devising of the storyline began in drama which in turn stimulated the development of the puppets, costumes and the dance routines. It was a very demanding process but hugely rewarding and exciting to watch the imagination of the children being realised as characters and plot, dance and movement, lyrics and music, puppets, masks and headdresses. It had a domino effect. The more inventive the ideas, particularly for the visual artists in bringing them to life, the more everyone rose to the challenge. No new idea was too big. Amazing creative solutions were constantly devised, not just by the team but by the children themselves. As the pace increased, the ideas flowed and at the end of each day the team shared the day’s developments and prepared for the new challenges for the following day.
By the end of week two we had a complete set of original songs for the show and the album, masses of video footage and a storyline. Characters were being assigned and rehearsals began to take shape as the script developed and the choreography got underway. The children decided they wanted to create a story which acknowledged the importance of technology in their lives but also how it impacts on the way we live our lives, specifically in relation to communication. To do this, they created the world of “Kindalania” which was a parallel world to the real world, where the characters of literacy and numeracy, who were brother and sister, had fallen out and numeracy (represented by a calculator) was destroying literacy (represented by a book) by stealing all the vowels from words and replacing them with prime numbers. The action begins when brother and sister, Jackson and Sarah from the real world are being looked after by their grandpa who likes to tell them stories. They persuade him to buy a kindle which they fight over resulting in a magical google storm which sucks them into this imaginary world. Grandpa is kidnapped by the monkey king and can only be saved if the children, helped by book worm and question mark, can break the numerical code. On their journey they meet and have to deal with various characters including: Spelling Bees and the Scrabble Monkeys, Nerdy Numbers and the Grammar Gang, Algebra Zebra and Lady Hashtag, Bookmark and Percy Palindrome, the Roman Numerals who battle the Tippex army and of course the prime numbers and the vowels.
I had asked the team to set the production in the round with the audience on four sides, which is a further challenge as it only allows for a minimal or no set so everything has to come through the action on stage and the costumes. The acting area was created by black and white chessboard flooring with an iPad portal doorway at one corner and the Monkey King’s throne in another corner. The musicians played from a fixed stage area, which helped create extra space but also added to the challenge as some children were musicians and performers.
Week three is always an exciting turning point because everyone gets into production mode. Things start to come together in rehearsal and the children’s level of performance becomes confident and inventive with their adding little touches of humour and personality to the action. At the start of the week we chose the main song from the album to be used at the end of the production and for the music video entitled “Together”, a beautiful song which absolutely captures the essence of summer school. It was a spine-tingling moment on first hearing it sung by all the children. In addition, so as not to break with tradition, the staff began rehearsing their version of “Uptown Funk” and the children learnt the dance routine to be performed as a finale.
Week four and the “Adventure Time Theatre Company”, which is now the established title for the group when in production week, comes to life. Buzzy sounds of excited children and adults combine with the rat-a-tat-tat of sewing machines, musical instruments, clapping hands and dancing feet, and numerous children’s voices. The momentum picks up and everyone has one focus which is to get to the Friday performance. When the day finally arrives it is a mixture of joy and sadness as we know that once the performance is over it will be the end of summer school for another year. Everyone pulls together for the final push fine tuning the action and making sure everything runs smoothly. As there were multiple costume changes, numerous exits and entrances and large numbers of children to move in and out of the space, all the children had to remain in the wings during the performance which required them to be extremely well rehearsed, listen to their cues and be in the right place at the right time in order to keep the pace going. This they did with great maturity, supporting each other, particularly the younger ones to ensure everything ran smoothly.
Their performance on all levels was amazing and a complete joy to watch. The 100 strong audience made up of parents, staff and guests were stunned by how accomplished and intelligent the production was with intricate storytelling, a demanding script and some mathematical equations even the adults struggled to master. But above all they were completely charmed by the sense of enjoyment on the children’s faces throughout. At the end we presented every child with a certificate and a copy of the album as well as awarding individuals the Star of the week and Star of Summer School certificate.
There is no doubt that Summer School this year once again exceeded our expectations. I set the team a huge challenge to create something bigger and better than in previous years and they more than fulfilled that brief. But it is the children who really make it happen with their brilliant imagination, enthusiasm, great capacity to enjoy all the opportunities on offer and their thirst to learn. Much of what we achieved was down to everyone always wanting to find solutions, never saying we can’t do something and being open to experimentation with ideas. Extending the age range of the children was a challenge for the team but the older children, especially year 6, took the younger ones under their wings and mentored them helping them grow.
Berkeley Summer School embraces all that is possible through the arts, transcends other barriers to learning and gives everyone involved a sense of being part of something very special. We have had three amazing years. I only hope that we can continue to provide this unique experience in 2016 and beyond. It is just so worth it.
(Summer School Organiser)