The actors of Edward’s Boys are primarily school boys. They fit the plays around their studies and other extra-curricular activities: their sport, their music, their life. It is just one of the things they do; one of the many things they do which contributes to their education. This is education (to dust-off a cliché) in and out of the classroom, and I shall attempt to make a couple of points about each aspect of this commonplace.
Firstly, the classroom side of things. As all who have been a part of Edward’s Boys will attest, work on a play starts with the text and never stops. There isn’t a thought about ‘putting it on its feet’ until all the actors know what every line means – or might mean. As school kids, these actors are perfectly prepared for this phase of the production, and a fairly traditional pupil-teacher dynamic is therefore more easily and productively achieved than may be the case with adult actors. This dynamic does not mean that the children aren’t encouraged to attempt interpretation of the text for themselves and be creative (‘playful’) with it – this process is a collaborative affair and such endeavours are required. It is rather that there is, perhaps, a greater openness to becoming informed about what the text is saying via effective classroom techniques. In short, the lads are used to learning, so the learning for the play comes fairly quickly. Evidently, the actors use their ‘transferable skills’ acquired in the classroom of, well, learning, in the rehearsal room. In turn, the proficiency in handling play-texts, difficult ones at that, is developed in the rehearsal room and then transferred back into the classroom. It’s something of an educational dream. The resulting increased sensitivity to literary devices and dramatic form and, more importantly, their effects, is a skill that all the boys involved can take straight back into the classroom and subsequently into the university seminar-room. Although the specific skills have been more obviously and immediately useful in the route I have taken (studying for an English degree), they are invaluable assets no matter what path the boys take, since there is a remarkable development of rhetorical skills and linguistic competence.
This leads me onto the out-of-the-classroom benefits, the non-academic side. Being in an Edward’s Boys production is, simply, a wonderful experience. Putting on a play has got to be fun (however seriously you take it), and these productions most certainly are. The importance of the thrill of performance, the positive atmosphere of the rehearsal room cannot be overstated. Perry, as director, may be in charge but, as has been stated, it is a truly collaborative process, with the boys investing greatly in their work. And then, as the performance approaches, the director lets go, and control is given over to the actors, the kids, to ‘us’. We run the show. There is no prompter, for example, and a student is Stage Manager. We manage the music, the scene changes, the special effects. We want to do ourselves justice, and we don’t want to let anyone down. It is a liberating, exciting experience and this is a huge part of the reason the boys want to, and should be, involved. To be given such responsibility in a thrilling creative environment is a fantastic thing for a teenager. This responsibility feeds a desire for discipline (self-discipline – we all want to get it right), as the company learns how to behave off-stage as well as on-stage. The cumulative effect is the development of a highly positive sense of self, measured by an acknowledgment of what is owed to others and how fruitful and rewarding a team effort can be.
In short, working on these witty, word-full texts, in the protected space of the rehearsal room, gives licence to play: joking and mocking, asking any question, exposing ourselves to intellectual and emotional honesty, developing camaraderie. The performances themselves serve to compound these benefits, and lend a profound sense of achievement. Many more knowledgeable will be able to say much more about the educational value. I have merely attempted to give a quick retrospective from a student’s point of view.