With the amazing success of our home-grown drama The Raft, it is safe to say our Queen’s drama students have had a very busy and exciting year.
The Drama Department has been working flat out to provide the unique opportunity for the girls to devise their own piece of theatre, in addition to the usual range of activities and shows.
We thought it was an ideal time to catch up with our Head of Drama Katharine Larder to talk about the academic year so far, being part of the prestigious National Student Drama Festival and what other opportunities are on offer at Queen's.
Q. You recently developed The Raft with drama teacher Jo Band and the Senior School pupils which has resulted in amazing success, how did this come about?
In 2015 the refugee and migrant crisis was all over the news. The images of these boats packed full of people and their despair and hope reminded me of a painting I had seen at The Louvre in Paris in 2012, The Raft of medusa by Gericault.”
Q. How hard was it for you all to come up with a play based on this theme?
“Once we had the idea, we decided to use three people's stories, and through research we had discovered the true story of a coat seen floating in the sea. It was at that point that we knew we had the bones of a play. We didn't know initially who the coat belonged to but we knew it would provide a key image in the play that we would keep returning to.”
Q. How did the girls find the whole experience and were you surprised at the response the performance got?
“Initially, Jo and I did a lot of research over the summer of 2015 and came back together with the idea of telling the three stories - a migrant, a refugee and an aid worker's stories. We wanted their stories to eventually link together in some way and so we split the cast into two groups, ensemble (years 7-9) and epic (years 10-13) and worked on the refugee and migrant stories separately. Jo and I would then meet together to discuss where we were up to and to forge links between the scenes. The girls really responded well to their devising task and also did research in order to provide the documentary evidence upon which to base the stories. We had big sheets of paper stuck up in the drama studio and we asked them to come in any time and add ideas or websites to the wall of ideas so we could piece together the play- it was a mighty task! We didn't know what we had by the time it came together. We were unsure of how it all fitted together and never had a complete script. The scenes were devised and improvised and some were written down so it was a real work in progress and a complete team effort. We were therefore astounded at the immediate praise we received on opening night.”
Q. The play was entered into the prestigious National Student Drama Festival and we hear they have been put forward to be judged in the next round which is an amazing achievement for the girls. What other opportunities do they get in terms of competitions and qualifications at Queen’s.
“The NSDF is the most prestigious event we have entered. We offer Drama at GCSE and A-level and also LAMDA qualifications up to Grade 8. We have entered LAMDA competitions in the past which are normally for individuals or pairs. There isn't really a drama competition that is open to groups apart from this one, which is generally dominated by university drama groups, so we were so proud of the girls who really put everything into the play.”
Q. Have you ever devised anything else?
“No this was a first for us both, it was so hard and time consuming but it came from a need to write something in response to the current crisis. It has proved to me that, despite the difficulties, we can do it and I am proud that we can offer drama that challenges and inspires and is modern and relevant.”
Q. What opportunities do girls have for writing drama?
“We run a weekly script writing club where we look at what makes a good drama, use improvisations to inspire ideas, and have created and developed some short scenes. 'The Raft' was more of a devised piece (scenes created through improvisation and using real dialogue taken from documentary evidence) - we eventually scripted it, so we had an actual script to work from but the creative process was less about the writing and more about the acting. The girls who take part in script writing club enjoy exploring ideas and seeing how drama can be used to create effect. It's harder than it looks as you have to consider the role of the director and actor in interpreting a script. As a writer you need to decide how much information you want to impart to the creative team who will work on the script.”
Q. What advice would you give to someone interested in script writing?
“Come to the club and find out more! Also read more scripts and think about themes and topics that inspire you. Watch people! The best writers and performers are excellent observers of people and situations.”