THE Complete Commedia Company visited seven Thurrock schools in the summer term to teach new skills, encourage creativity and provide arts engagement opportunities for local young people.
School playgrounds across Thurrock were the settings for scenes of chaos and comedy in July when the Thurrock-based Complete Commedia Company presented their newly developed production, Schoolyard Scenarios, to pupils in both primary and secondary schools.
Specialising in the ancient Italian art form of Commedia dell’Arte, the Complete Commedia Company was well prepared to adapt to the restrictions placed upon it by the pandemic. In 16th century Italy, street-based touring troupes set up stage in market squares and performed to townsfolk. In the 21st century, Complete Commedia got into their van and toured Thurrock, erecting a makeshift stage in playgrounds and entertaining students and staff who had been starved of live performance for more than a year.
The students from both the primary schools and those studying drama at secondary school were quick to pick up the comedic and exaggerated performance style of Commedia, having the space to explore characters in the open air. Staff at the schools welcomed the opportunity for their students to experience professional actors performing live as many had had to rely on watching recorded performances as part of their studies.
Miss Stacey, Gable Hall School said “Outdoor theatre is so exciting. It feels so much more spontaneous. It’s really nice for the students to have that experience, but also to learn from professional actors. We do teach Commedia sometimes, but it’s really hard to get such a broad presentation. It’s great to have such expertise and for the students to have such a great introduction to it.”
Lucy Burrows from Grays Convent High School agreed: “I’ve really missed seeing live performance, and this is the first live performance I’ve seen since coming out of lockdown so it’s been brilliant to be outside in the sunshine, and to see such an enjoyable piece. It’s so important to see live work. All this year we’ve been restricted to using filmed performances, and you don’t get the same atmosphere, the same interaction with the actors and especially with a piece like this when there’s so much direct address, to have an audience reaction is essential, for the actors too.”
Others celebrated the opportunity for their learners to explore their creative potential.
Rachel Harper, from Lansdowne Primary Academy said “I found it very emotional watching the students. It was the first time we’ve had them all together in over a year to do something like this as a whole Year group, and they absolutely loved every moment. It just shows how much things like this enrich the curriculum. They threw themselves in, every single one of them is enjoyed every second. It was wonderful to see.”
Five performers from the Complete Commedia Company were joined by Owen Reynolds, an associate artist of internationally renowned juggling company Gandini, who led a juggling workshop for students. This offered them the chance to be inventive and try new skills with a world-class professional.
Blatella Films documented the project, recording the performances and the workshops which followed. Once edited the resulting film will be available to view on the Complete Commedia Company’s website. The schools will be invited to join an online screening, to celebrate the combined work of all schools and the borough wide project.
By participating in this project, each school has become part of the Commedia Community Chorus and the aim for the future, when it is possible to do so, is to bring these schools together for a live festival of Commedia dell’arte.
Bernadette Wakeling, Artistic Director, Complete Commedia Company said:
“It was an absolute joy to visit the schools. The response from the students was fantastic. Using the masks and being outside allowed them to express themselves and enjoy a sense of freedom none of us have experienced in the past year. We are delighted to have begun this partnership with Thurrock’s young people and look forward to making more mayhem and mirth with them in the future.”
More details of the Schoolyard Scenarios programme, which was funded by Arts Council England and Thurrock Council can be found at: www.thecompletecommediacompany.co.uk/schoolyard-scenarios
The Complete Commedia Company is a professional theatre company based in Thurrock, with 20 years’ experience in the classical Italian artform. To find out more about the Company, please go to www.thecompletecommediacompany.co.uk