As everyone knows, 2012’s London Olympics begin next week with the Opening Ceremony on Friday (27 July), though the games themselves get underway this Wednesday with Women’s Football.
However, what slightly fewer people are aware of is the ‘Cultural Olympiad’ that accompanies London 2012: an arts festival, which offers what some may call an ‘alternative’ to all the sport. It is, as its website proudly states, ‘the largest cultural celebration in the history of the modern Olympic and Paralympic movements’, apparently involving 16 million people from across the UK either taking part in or attending performances around the nation.
It’s a common myth that GCSE Drama is a ‘doss-subject’, with little real work involved. In my first years at Furze Platt, I was of that opinion too, and whilst I enjoyed partaking in the art form in extra-curricular activities, I wasn’t convinced that it was a subject I wanted to take as one of my four GCSE options, alongside German, Music, and History. It was only because Mrs Bradley (then Miss Baldwin) was sat at the exit of the Year 9 Options Evening school hall event that made me finally commit to continuing it in lesson-time. But boy, how wrong I was about it being a soft option.
Drama, uniquely, is a subject which requires a huge amount of often unseen effort from all members of a group, with hours spent in breaktimes, lunchtimes, and after school (in fact, my group, like many others, decided not to waste the strike day and instead held a rehearsal all afternoon). The groups we were put into were chosen by our teacher, and all groups were given the same stimulus of ‘riots’. This, for me, was a dream – on seeing the work of last year’s cohort, performed around the time of the violent student fees protest, I’d immediately had an idea based on different perspectives of the story. My idea featured a journalist, desperate for a story and a byline, searching London for a winning article.
And so work began in September on our piece, by which point the summer riots had drawn everybody’s attention. With a variety of characters included, from a police officer’s wife nervously awaiting her husband’s arrival to Amy Weston (the photographer who captured the defining image of the terror of the burning blazes), I was sure that our piece would be edgy, interesting, and thought-provoking.
Tonight, my school’s new Music and Drama facilities were officially opened by The Right Honourable Theresa May MP, followed by a twenty-minute show incorporating all three performing arts. Ms White, the headmistress, began the proceedings with a short welcome, before Mrs May made an address to the audience of 82.
I was reminded of a line in David Ward’s book Transformation, which tells the story of the construction of the new RST, a theatre we visited in June. Though our construction took just six months to complete (five months less than the construction of the Courtyard Theatre described in the text), and the fact our new stage lies on what was once a part of the field (rather than a Stratford-upon-Avon car-park), the message is the same. Furze Platt’s new Drama block has been put up in astonishing speed. Even taking into account the delays and extended handover dates, the building is hugely impressive for a school, and extraordinary for a non-performing arts specialist school.
"Ten days before Midsummer’s Day in 2006, actor Richard Cordery walked on to the thrust stage of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s new Courtyard Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon, pointed to a woman in the front row, and said: ‘It’s hard to imagine, madam, but 11 months ago I parked my car exactly where you are sitting.’"
— David Ward, Tranformation, first published 2011
As Year 13 Ryan Tomlinson walked into the spotlight, he began reciting part of Jaques’s All The World’s A Stage soliloquy from Shakespeare‘s As You Like It. This introduced a short film with photos of the construction of the new buildings, pre-timed to the Chamber Choir (of which I’m a member) singing Hallelujah live, from the gantry around the stage. As a singer, it wasn’t the easiest ‘gig’ I’ve ever played, with my sightline of Miss Watson, the conductor, severed by a huge number of theatre lights. Even so, I’m pretty proud of the sound we made.
Next on stage was Nicole Mather dancing a solo ballet piece. When her routine finished, she was joined by six other GCSE Dance students in my year, who performed a more modern dance.
Guitarist Lois Brown then played a Spanish piece on her instrument, beautifully lit by a red spotlight.
"Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything."
— All The World’s A Stage, as recited by Ryan Tomlinson at the opening ceremony of the new Drama and Music facilities, 11 November 2011
There was a reprise of Hallelujah as the short show came to an end, with Ms White then taking the stage once again to close the ceremony.
"I was going to come on and say ‘Hallelujah’,but I’m almost speechless. You can see by the quality of the arts here at Furze Platt that the new facilities will be warmly received."
— Ms White, Headteacher of Furze Platt School, on the opening ceremony of the new Drama and Music facilities,11 November 2011
Before everyone went home, there was just time for William Shaw and Ben Spurgeon to demonstrate the capabilities of the new state-of-the-art recording studio (crafted in the shell of an old Music classroom) on the other side of the campus.