Food & Drink

Art Blossoms in Buckinghamshire

Embedded in the leafy suburb of Redbridge, but near the Council Estate, was a grammar school recently evolved into a comprehensive. With the change of “regime” from the long-established old grammar school to new comprehensive, there was a natural attrition of older teachers. A newly appointed, progressive headmaster created new departments and hired a team of progressive and modern teachers. I was among them, initiating the “Drama Department.” I was the first and only drama teacher for the first year, teaching drama to 11–18  year old girls and boys.

Drama classes can and do include acting and theatre as illustrative exercises but “Drama in Education” in the UK is more evolved than that. We use improvisation and characterization as explorative exercises in understanding and illustrating emotions, motives, thinking, processing, explaining the imponderables that besiege the adolescent brain and development. And we reference  the stories described in complex novels, plays, poetry to understand and appreciate their context.

I set up improvisational exercises for the students  to work through sometimes difficult relationship problems and situations to develop logical and sometimes emotional understanding. The denouement of the exercise would be a discussion, exploration and analysis of the points explicated. Sometimes these exercises resulted in performances, but their purpose was increased intellectual and emotional awareness and understanding and learning how to express this within the parameters of prose, poetry, painting, plays, dance.

Another aspect was reading and exploring scenes from plays, Shakespeare of course, but also Oscar Wilde, Samuel Becket; chapters from novels by Austen, Tolstoy or William Golding, whose “Lord of the Flies” resulted in a splendid three days of performances for the public, the Education Board and local press. Exploration of depictions in paintings and sculptures was also explored through improvisation, helping students  to “read” representational art as well as develop a conception and appreciation of abstract art. We listened  to different types and styles of music and what it “said” to us. Looked at and experimented with dance and movement. All these activities were then transformed into understanding using language: plays, prose or poetry.

One of the high points of the year was a field trip with a group of the most impassioned kids to a farm in Buckinghamshire, west of London owned by one of the new teachers. Nick and his family owned Pigotts, this now non-working farm with its large barns, orchards and fields beyond. The barns that were the sleeping bag dormitories for the girls and boys at night, during the day became the kitchen, studio, work spaces for all the artistic activities that would take place during the three days and evenings of the long summer weekend.

This was a “self-catered” venue so everyone pitched in to cook, serve and clean up under the tutelage of the cook at the farm. The food was simple — based on fruit and cereal for breakfast, salads, sandwiches and fruit for lunch and pastas, salads and fruit for dinner. The very healthy fare was also a surprise to some of them whose home dinner mostly consisted of canned food. “Travel broadens the mind” can take on many different applications.

This idyllic country setting was a revelation to most of the kids who had no experience of English “countryside.” The new seeing informed their outlook and attitude to their work over those few days that also influenced their wider outlook. The free-ranging, relaxed learning process encouraged exploration of techniques whether in writing or painting or playing an instrument; self-confidence bloomed so they could create themselves anew.

The exploration and exhilaration of these open process days culminated in a last evening of mixed art performance where they showed and explained their work: painting, sculpture, poetry, short story, acting, dance, playing music. What a joy to be part of this blossoming of possibilities into the grace of reality.

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  • Katie March 20, 2017 at 5:59 pm

    Thank you Chef Ro Howe, for the article and the recipe, which I’ve just printed out.

    What a rich experience, for body and soul.