Secondary Production Means Hard Work, Discipline, and Dedication

An interview with Abigail Turkmore, Head of Performing Arts at BSB.

Abigail Turkmore brings significant experience to the British School of Bucharest in her role as Head of Performing Arts. Working for a Manchester high school as the Community Arts Coordinator, Abigail taught Art, Drama and Dance. She also taught in three primary schools and at a specialist support secondary school. In this role, Abigail was responsible for developing learning opportunities in the local community, including choreographing, rehearsing and performing multi-school shows every term. She also ran weekly art workshops in the community, involved professionals from the creative industries in arts opportunities and held local exhibitions.

Abigail directs this year’s production of Alice@Wonderland, a modern rendition of a magical story brought to life.

How did the idea for a new rendition of Lewis Carroll’s timeless book come to you? What does this production mean to you?

When choosing a show, I try to go for something well known that has recognisable characters and storyline, that has a family appeal. I select a show that is easy enough for any pupils to get involved in, big enough to have a large cast, with speaking and named roles, and that everyone knows.

A secondary production means a lot of hard work, discipline, and dedication from staff and pupils. The production takes up a considerable amount of time and relies on the commitment of all those involved. On a personal note, it is great to see how the pupils take on a role and make it their own on stage through their acting skills.

Without spoiling the surprises you have in store for us, can you tell us what is different about the BSB Alice@Wonderland performance?

Imagine what would happen if a 21st century Alice collided with Lewis Carroll’s legendary Wonderland. It is a modern retelling of the classic children’s story and has all the characters you know and love, including the Mad Hatter, the White Rabbit and the Queen of Hearts. We have laid the story out in a traditional style, except that Alice is distinctly contemporary, complete with a cell phone in her hand. We have lots of references to text messaging and social media, humour and a modern style which we hope will appeal to both children and adults.

We understand that students are involved heavily in the production of the play, each having various roles, both on and off stage? Could you elaborate?

This year I wanted as many pupils involved in the show as possible. Through faculty collaboration and cross-curricular links merging creative (Art, Design Technology) and performing arts (Music, Drama) we were able to offer classroom and CCA opportunities for pupils to get involved in all aspects of the production. In Art class, year nine pupils had the chance to design, create and make the backdrop for the play. In Music class, pupils had the opportunity to compose (write, produce and record) music for the production. CCA allowed pupils to act in the play and to design, create and make the costumes, sets and props.

What do you enjoy most about teaching young students about the performing arts?

I love teaching drama because it energises and exhausts me at the same time. My students are having fun while learning, and I’m teaching a subject that encourages self-confidence and problem-solving. In my classroom, pupils learn genuine life skills. They discover new ways of communicating ideas, and they learn the real meaning of collaboration in group work and both individual and collective responsibility. I enjoy seeing the excitement and smiles on my students’ faces, most of whom genuinely want to be in class. Drama helps pupils to explore the human experience and relationships in detail. Imaginations can run free and wild in this subject.

How does a typical rehearsal day take place?

Firstly, I direct the blocking of the scene. This involves telling actors where they should move for the proper dramatic effect, ensuring sightlines for the audience and working with the set, props, lighting, costume and sound designs of the scene. Pupils then rehearse the scene, and I coach the actors in how they need to improve their performance. My focus is usually on body language, gestures, facial and vocal expression along with proxemics, semiotics, pause, and pace. Pupils then run through the scene numerous times to ensure all is good. I always give time for them to annotate the script to ensure direction is clearly understood. A scene is revisited multiple times throughout the rehearsal process.

Tell us a bit about the costumes, props, and everything that goes into creating an immersive experience for the audience.

Sets: Expressive colours with non-naturalist, stylised and abstract elements to help create an idea of a land of fantasy and mirage.

Props: They are larger than life and painted with vivid colours to create an idea of the absurd.

Costumes: Are there to aid characterisations, create the fantasy atmosphere and help the audience delve into their imagination to visualise the talking animals and objects within the play.

Breaking the fourth wall: The performance isn’t limited to the stage itself but uses the space within the audience as well.

Lighting and sound: Used throughout to help create a weird and wonderful atmosphere.

Characterisations: Extending the audience experience outside of the performance and delivering an element of contrast when Alice falls through a rabbit hole into a fantasy world populated by peculiar, anthropomorphic creatures.

The performing arts are deeply rooted in creativity. Do you agree, and how do your students express this creativity in both the Alice@Wonderland performance and the classes you hold at BSB?

To me, Performing Arts (Music, Drama, and Dance) goes hand in hand with creativity, allowing students to be innovative while encouraging them to learn new things. Besides the fact that it’s fun and challenging, Performing Arts builds habits of mind that are essential to living well and weathering the adversities of life. It hones creativity and intelligence. Fosters our compassion, and brings a higher understanding of humanity to our awareness. Performers must be critical thinkers, problem solvers, and good listeners. Performing arts is a physical, mental, and emotional journey about personal betterment and the vitality of human connection.

March 2019

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