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Theatre study guides

Theatre study guides to help your children learn about theatre at home

Will Longman
Will Longman

Home-schooling is something parents across the country have found themselves thrown into teaching their little ones from their kitchen tables. We've already given tips on how you could incorporate drama into your activity schedule, but there are plenty of study guides online for children to become more aware of what theatre is, and how to learn about what goes on behind the curtain.

Here are some online guides you can use to engage, teach and inspire little ones, and get them keen to see a show as soon as theatres open their doors once again.

Disney On Stage

Many families may be curling up on the sofa and watching a Disney movie. We know they're entertaining for audiences of all ages, but there's moral lessons you can take away too. Disney Theatrical have put together a range of free resources and educational programmes. There's activities based on The Lion KingMary Poppins and Frozen, sure to make a movie fun and educational all at the same time.

Disney Theatrical Productions will also be offering students a chance to watch the filmed stage versions of Newsies. There'll be educational content to supplement the musical, who said theatre couldn't be educational? The musical film is available from 14 June - 23 July.

ReadThrough

In order to study theatre, dramatic works need to come to life. Here's where ReadThrough step in. Offering live readings to school children, workshops will allow audiences to gain a deeper understanding of the text. For the upcoming reading of Othello, the cast includes Dame Harriet Walter, Jade Anouka, Guy Paul, Remmie Milner and Esther Smith. Othello is available to watch on 7 May.

Read here for more information.

National Theatre

Continuing to support teachers and young people, the National Theatre have launched a series of initiatives that are all designed to help pupils and teachers. 

There'll be free streaming of National Theatre plays, available to schools and universities worldwide. So far, there's 30 shows online including Small Island, Jane Eyre, King Lear and A Streetcar Named Desire. Don't worry if you've got primary school children, as some productions are adapted for youngsters. 

The National Theatre have also launched NT Learning, with lots of courses, videos and digital exhibitions to bring learning to life. 

Royal Shakespeare Company

With schools and theatres shut, the Royal Shakespeare Company continue to provide free broadcasts for a generation of children. Award-winning writer Michael Morpurgo will present five Shakespeare plays over five consecutive Fridays, alongside members of the RSC Acting Company.   

BBC Bitesize

One of the best free learning resources online, catering for all key stages right up to GCSE and post-16.

For key stage 2 (7 - 11 year olds), there are guides and videos about what a play is and how to write one, as well as videos about staging Shakespeare plays in the home and in their original form.

Moving to key stage 3 and key stage 4 (11 - 16 year olds), there are in-depth study guides for eight Shakespeare plays (A Midsummer Night's Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, Macbeth, Richard III, Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night, The Merchant of Venice and The Tempest), encompassing plot, characters, themes, language and performance analysis. We highlighted in our guide to theatre streaming services, the Globe Player is an extensive resource with full-length Shakespeare productions to watch, which may help contextualise the words on the page and increase understanding.

For A Level students, there are in-depth study guides for English Language and Drama which are sorted by specific exam board, meaning and learning can be tailored to the exams and curricula you need.

If you're in need of televised resources, then BBC Bitesize is here to help too. Starting on Monday 11 January, each week day on CBBC will see a three-hour block of primary school programming from 9am, including BBC Live Lessons and BBC Bitesize Daily, as well as educational programming. GCSE curriculum will be taught on BBC Two, with lessons in Shakespeare as well as drama adaptations. Read here for more information.

SparkNotes

Of course, the world of drama extends far beyond Shakespeare and what is taught at school. If you want to teach your child about your favourite play, you might be able to find a guide at SparkNotes. Not only do they contain guides on classics such by Ibsen, Thornton Wilder, Oscar Wilde, and George Bernard Shaw, but there are also more contemporary plays on offer including Tony Kushner's Angels in America, Caryl Churchill's Cloud 9, Harold Pinter's The Dumb Waiter, David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross and many more. These may be better suited to older students but might provide relief and respite from studying the same plays. You could try choosing a play you also haven't seen before, so you are learning together, and your conversations about the work will seem more natural and collaborative. 

YouTube videos

Learning from videos may be an unorthodox study method. But, if we've learned anything over the past 12 months, it's to use all our resources and be resilient in the face of adversity. If you need a theatrical break from studying, or you're wanting to research contemporary shows, there's a treasure trove of archived recordings. Best of all, they're available for free.

Musical theatre study guides

It's common that children's experience of theatre is solely through musicals, which differs from what they study at school, but that doesn't mean there isn't a lot to learn about plot, character, themes, and indeed music. A list of guides for shows such as The Lion King, Wicked, Mamma Mia and Mary Poppins are available at BroadwayEducators.com.

UPDATE: Latest information added on 25 May 2021.

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