How Covid led to idea for ‘rich online bank’ of theatre

The National Theatre of Scotland (NTS) was conceived as a theatre “without walls” with the flexibility to tour theatre productions across the country, from large-scale venues to village halls.

I joined the company in November 2020, mid pandemic, while various ambitious filmed and digital productions were being developed and created to ensure that our audiences and communities were still being served even though theatres were closed.

We learned that we had the flexibility to adapt our model, to bring brilliant theatrical productions and projects into the digital sphere while broadening our audience reach.

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Director of creative engagement is a new role at NTS and one of my key priorities is to strengthen the relationship between NTS and secondary schools. I had various conversations with teachers across Scotland and I quickly realised that the potential for a rich online bank of archive NTS digital shows would be a valuable resource for secondary school drama pupils and their teachers.

Our recently launched online Education Portal, has been created in response to those conversations and offers schools free resources to support the Higher drama curriculum as well as free access to selected National Theatre of Scotland full-length productions to watch online at school.

We know that we can’t tour every show to every local authority. We appreciate that there are rural communities who can’t attend venues that are just too far away or that we might be touring to an area over school holidays or exams.

A filmed production does not replace a live theatre experience but I hope nationwide access to filmed productions means that that every young person in an educational setting in Scotland, regardless of location, can now experience a National Theatre of Scotland show, and can view at a time that suits the institution.

I want us to support drama teachers and young people studying drama to ensure that they have the best possible learning experience. It’s important that young people can see exciting theatre that has been made in Scotland, so they can relate culturally to what they see on stage, be inspired by Scottish theatrical talent and aspire to be part of the next generation of theatre-makers, both onstage and off.

The portal opened with a specially created educational resource for Hannah Lavery’s powerful and acclaimed production, Lament for Sheku Bayoh, plus access to a filmed version of the production, captured at the Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh in 2020.

The resource pack for this production, created alongside our partners Edinburgh International Festival and the Lyceum, is freely available to schools and designed to support teachers to approach an anti-racism conversation.

The resources have been developed with input from poet and facilitator Clementine E Burnley, and include tools from organisations such as Training for Change and The Anti-Racist Educator. 

The National Theatre of Scotland’s ability to respond to current events and how this can be explored in the classroom is something we will be looking at developing around future productions, if teachers indicate that these would be a useful resource.

Resources and a filmed version will soon be made available for our next production, the world premiere of The Enemy – a radical re-imagining of the classic Henrik Ibsen play, An Enemy of the People – by Scottish playwright Kieran Hurley. Resources for The Enemy – which opens tomorrow – will focus on the Higher drama exam syllabus and will offer schools short videos of members of the creative team and cast talking about directing, acting, character, space and design.

Next year, we will be filming May Sumbwanyambe’s Enough of Him, our co-production with Pitlochry Festival Theatre, which tells a fictionalised account of the true story of Joseph Knight, an enslaved African man brought to Scotland by plantation owner John Wedderburn to serve in his Perthshire mansion and, again, will add to the portal with additional resource.

We will also be creating wider digital resources for drama teachers looking at different jobs and careers in theatre, with interviews with key staff and talent about costume and set design, technical and theatre lighting. These resources will complement the productions and resources available in the portal.

The opening of the portal is the start of a conversation with drama teachers across Scotland so we can find out more about how we can best support their teaching. I am looking forward to hearing what teachers think and finding out new ways of supporting and inspiring schoolchildren across Scotland with the work that the National Theatre of Scotland produces.

Registration to the portal is free and is open to all teachers and educators. For any questions about registration or feedback on the portal, email: [email protected]

Paul Fitzpatrick is National Theatre of Scotland’s director of creative engagement. The NTS Education Portal is available to access here

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