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Education > Case Study: Perry Court Juniors

Heading – Case Study: Perry Court Juniors


30 participants – May 2006


This residency built upon an existing relationship between Toby Hulse and the History Co-ordinator at Perry Court. It meant the project could act as a pilot for assessing history learning through the pupils’ creation of a drama exploring Brunel and the Victorians.

The project grew from a visit to the Brunel and the Art of Invention exhibition at Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery. Children responded to the paintings on display, selecting favourites and exploring the stories they encapsulated. They took on the directorial roles and produced drama with classmates that expressed the social history within the paintings. This project had a big impact on all involved stretching the children and resulting in powerful drama that was shared with the rest of the school.

Helen Barbour, teacher at the school, commented:

“The productions were exciting, engaging, at times humorous and at times very emotional. As a teacher the most moving thing was seeing the creative power of very 'ordinary' children brought truly alive with magical results.

The Brunel week at Perry Court was given a huge lift by the creative input of Toby Hulse. While the other year groups focussed on Art, D &T, Music and Literacy activities linked to Brunel, Year 6 were given the inspiration to prepare something quite different related to Brunel, using Drama. The most exciting thing about this project was that Toby let the children create the product themselves, taking it in any direction they wished.

It started at the City Museum, at a very small exhibition with portraits and objects related in some way to Brunel. The 15 children, who had been selected for their imagination and theatrical sensibilities, were encouraged to find one item that interested them, and in which they could see the potential for drama. Through subtle nudges and gentle discussion, Toby got the best out of this research stage, and all the children came away with copious notes, drawing and plans for their piece of drama. I will certainly use this technique of using small elements of pictures and photos to create writing and drama in the future; it was extremely powerful.

What we ended up with at the end of the week was several sketches, bringing characters in portraits to life; still tableaux with voice-overs; a dance/drama metaphor in which the iron ship was the builders' master; a piece of shadow puppetry using an overhead projector with Brunel as a dragon-slayer, and a dramatic radio play, in which 2 ships collide underneath the Suspension Bridge. All entirely conceived, written, acted and directed by the 11 year old children themselves. The productions were exciting, engaging, at times humorous and at times very emotional. As a teacher the most moving thing was seeing the creative power of very 'ordinary' children brought truly alive with magical results. Thank you Toby! As a man who had a huge imagination himself I suspect Brunel would have loved it!”

The children’s feedback shows how much they enjoyed their week:

“I found working with Toby fun and exciting. I directed the play the first time. So I felt nervous and excited at the same time. Usually I don’t like standing up and talking but this time I felt confident…. It was the best day ever.”

“I loved doing the play because I enjoy drama and I liked it because I had to scream and I couldn’t stop laughing after!”

“I think directing my animation with Toby gave me more confidence in writing and directing. The trip to the Museum with Toby was fun and educational and inspired my imagination to make my animation. The picture that inspired me was an industrial picture that Toby showed me. I found Toby was very good at helping to adapt ideas to make them reality for the animation. It’s fun to work with Toby because he makes you laugh and gets you motivated to do your work. Toby also comes up with loads of facts about the subject and he does great examples of what you are doing and how to do it.”

Toby Hulse feedback:

“The aim of the project was to give pupils the opportunity to build on previous learning in drama, in particular playwriting, using a stimulus related to the Brunel 200 celebrations. When I worked with these children last year we dramatised a short story by Hans Christian Andersen as a collaborative process - the children working within a framework and methodology that I provided. I was very interested to see if the same children were able to apply the same way of working in a more independent context, and in response to a visual rather than text based stimulus.

The two classes were divided into two - the first group leading the project as writers and directors, the second larger group working under their supervision to create the pieces of theatre. The first group were chosen after a forty five minute workshop introducing a method of generating ideas from a visual stimulus. I was looking particularly for children with strong visual literacy skills, powerful imaginations, the confidence to take risks and the ability to communicate clearly to their peers. The 15 children chosen were a fascinating mix of academic and social ability, several of whom had probably never taken on such high profile responsibilities.

This group were then taken for a morning to the Brunel and the Art of Invention exhibit at the City Museum. This was an ideal stimulus, being rich in ideas but small and self-contained enough not to be daunting. The children were encouraged to note any ideas that came to mind in whatever form seemed appropriate, in particular those which generated stories. The range of ideas was quite extraordinary, from the historically accurate to the wildly fantastic, and it was particularly gratifying to see children of this age spend such concentrated amounts of time in front of what at first glance must have seemed disappointingly dull Victorian paintings. The function of the adults in the group was to begin to join ideas together and to encourage talk and discussion right across the fifteen children.

The subsequent work involved the core group translating their ideas into pieces of theatre and, in one case, a film. Here it quickly became evident that the children had learned a lot from my previous visits, as they confidently employed workshop, writing and directing techniques that I had used with them. My main role was (sadly) to limit ambition so that the work planned fitted into the time and resources available and to provide additional stimulus to the work, usually in the form of anecdotes about theatre pieces I had seen. The core group worked well with the second group, handing out roles and responsibilities with great care and fairness, and understanding the importance of inclusion.

The resultant pieces were surprising, witty, moving and eccentric by turns, performed with great confidence in front of the rest of the school. Several showed an excellent understanding of the historical and cultural thinking behind the project and the exhibition, several showed an imaginative and empathetic engagement with the period, and all demonstrated lively creativity and a sense of joy in learning. In all a very successful project.”