Isn’t Shakespeare a bit heavy for 8 year olds?

I was so excited to hear this story from our amazing Broome Teaching Artist Rani Middleton that I had to share it with you. All of our Junior Gecko Ensembles around WA have been exploring The Tempest this term – check out what happened with Rani’s class! ME

I had one of those I-really-love-my-job moments the day before the Junior Gecko program was due to begin in Broome. My task for the day? I had to source a magician’s cloak and magic book to use for my teacher-in-role as Prospero, the magician in The Tempest.

After raiding my old costume room, (thanks St Mary’s College) I had found the garment. A long, heavy purple cloak with a large hood. Perfect for a mysterious magician. As for the magic book, I realised I could substitute my ancient, battered copy of Shakespeare’s Complete Works. Its ratty brown cover with faded gold print certainly looked magic.

Did Shakespeare write all this? An 11 year old Junior Gecko asks in wonder as he thumbs through the book the next day. And so begins our journey through The Tempest.

When I relayed to most people what the Junior Geckos were up to this term, I was inevitably asked the following question: Shakespeare’s a bit heavy for 8 year olds, isn’t it?

Think about it.

Love at first sight… A shipwreck… A stranded magician and his daughter on a magical island… A stinky monster… Clowns… Spirit Dogs… Betrayal and forgiveness…

Perfect for any year olds!

The real magic of the Junior Barking Gecko Term Two program on Shakespeare’s The Tempest is within the structure of the unit. It is designed to capture the students’ imagination and carefully foster their curiosity about the play.

First things first, we are introduced to the world of the play… Let’s sail a ship. Oh no – a storm! The ship is sinking, but magically we all survive completely intact washed up on a magical island!

Then we start to engage with the story – Would you kill your brother to become King? How do I woo the man of my dreams? If you had a magical slave – would you set them free?

By the time the text is introduced (during a wonderful session of hurling Shakespearean insults back and forth) the Geckos are invested, engaged and on a roll!

Ring the alarms!

The Broome Civic Centre’s alarm is blaring. Confused grey nomads are wandering in wondering where to vote. (It’s easy to confuse the Broome Civic Centre with the Broome Convention Centre if you’re travelling through). The mum who set the alarm off accidentally is frantically making calls on my phone to security guards across the country. Inside the hall, the alarm is merely white noise adding to the excitement already brewing. 20 minutes until the parents arrive and there are lines to rehearse, moves to practice, voices to warm up and costumes to be donned. It’s the Broome Junior Gecko Ensemble, ready to present their Shipwreck Scene from The Tempest by William Shakespeare. A two-minute carefully crafted performance that is merely the tip on the iceberg of what we’ve explored in the nine weeks of the term. The parents arrive through the foyer covering their ears from the din of the alarm. One set of grandparents has just flown all the way from the UK. Just as they are seated, the security guard arrives and I have to leave the little gathering: ‘why don’t you tell your parents a bit about the play?’ I suggest in parting.

The alarm is switched off!

As I hurry back, I can hear snippets of facts drifting through the hall…. “He lived on a magical island”… “Did you know Shakespeare wrote all his plays in the rhythm of five heartbeats?”… “He ended up throwing his magic book overboard”… And when I finally reach the group, the Geckos, with no prior prompting are already recreating the sound garden we created back in Week 5! And it’s in these unplanned, improvised moments where the performers can truly step up and shine.

Rani Middleton, Barking Gecko Teaching Artist, Broome

P.S. The Geckos performed their scene splendidly. So well in fact, the parents demanded a repeat!