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Cultural Importance: The Second Wellington College Arts Festival

April, 2016
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Documentary making, news reporting, clowning, drama, a series of workshops were organized and provided to staff, parents and, of course, students from all three areas (Pre-Prep, Prep and Senior) of the Wellington College International Shanghai during the Second Wellington College Arts Festival from 19 to 25 March. Although the festival celebrated the arts and culture in general, this year’s thematic thread was Shakespeare, whose death in 1616, 400 years ago, was commemorated.

For Pre-Prep and Prep pupils, the school invited Alex Milway, author and illustrator of children’s books, and Eden Ballantyne, founder of Stories Alive, to open storytelling workshops. As a storyteller with over 15 years of acting experience, Ballantyne asked kids to pose like a statue that in their understanding best conveyed the role given. The roles started from “king” or “queen” to “powerful wizard” or “humble servant,” and then to more complicated ones like “someone murdering another person who is in sleep” or “someone who is desperately in love,” and finally developed to group statue staging. Ballantyne divided the kids into small teams and whispered instructions to each team about the action of every member in the team. Then one team posted a group statue and asked the other teams to guess what the scene was about. It turned out every scene they posed was from a Shakespeare classic, such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet and so on. Through such guided role-play, the kids not only furthered their understanding of Shakespeare’s stories, but got a taste of acting as well.

Filmmaker Kim Flitcroft presented to the students attending his documentary making workshops with three different gang situations in documentaries he made. He thinks many of Shakespeare’s stories, like Romeo and Juliet and Julius Caesar, are about gangs. “The younger age groups are much more interested in the content, while the older age groups I lead the discussions more into how documentaries are made,” said Flitcroft.

Students also got a chance to learn how to act like a clown in the clowning workshop given by Roxanne Browne, Co-Artistic Director of the Bric à Brac Theatre company. “To actually act a role is a new way for us to learn about Shakespeare,” said Year 7 student Claudia Chan.

“Too much focus on Shakespeare in schools is on reading, learning and analyzing texts, but the ‘play’s the thing’, so we should perform, experience and be moved by the plays,” commented Gerard MacMahon, Master of Wellington College International Shanghai.

One of the developments from last year’s Arts Festival was the involvement of parents, who were not only invited to certain events but also asked to participate, specifically in a musical concert and a drama workshop. 

As a supplement to the pupils’ sessions, they attended lectures (including one on ‘Why Shakespeare is Great’), a concert of music inspired by Shakespeare, and an early evening performance that presented a showcase of the work done by children during their time spent with the award-winning drama group, Round Midnight. 

The idea of taking pupils off timetable stressed the important role of the arts at Wellington.  “Culture is an increasingly important aspect of the way people approach the manner in which they exist,” the Festival Director, Dr. Stephen Jacobi, explained. “Rather than being merely a branch of entertainment, it constitutes a space within which people can be playful and experimental, working out who they are.”

Culture acts as a kind of simulator, where we are able to try out different versions of our lives. These days the world changes about as much in a single month as it did in the whole of the fourteenth-century. The arts are one of the few places where we can learn how to live. As the writer Graham Greene once wrote, “Sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in the human condition.”

The arts can also enrich and amuse. Much of this was evident in the Wellington College Arts Festival, which clearly articulates a bold statement about the importance of culture in today’s society. 


By Catherine Deng


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