Each year the Scully Fund has generously supported one week of performances with The Players, enabling them to travel to regional areas of NSW that we would otherwise be unable to reach. In 2023 Team Montague travelled to Bellingen, Bowraville and Dorrigo to deliver performances to local schools. The team were accompanied by Bell Shakespeare Company Manager Danielle Ironside, who reported on their activities each day.



Monday, 18 September 2023

Our first show for the week is at Bellingen High School. As soon as we arrive we meet some wonderful staff members who give directions on where to sign in. The Players and I head to our trusty eight-seater KIA to unload their gear: two duffle bags and a road case that holds the set and props for all three shows! I felt like Mary Poppins unpacking set and prop pieces for the team to set the stage. They're starting with Such Sweet Sorrow, performing to over 70 students in years 7 to 11. During the team's vocal warm-up, a senior student enters the gym alone to introduce himself. The student politely and confidently shares that he looks after sound and lighting at the school and asked whether we required anything technical for the show. The Players’ shows are designed to be very low-fi so we politely decline but would have loved to see his skills in action!

While waiting for the students to start filing in, the Year 9 Drama teacher, Linda, enters the gym full of energy and excitement. Linda was so excited for Bell Shakespeare to be there, and told us about her drama students who were working on an abridged version of Macbeth in Drama this term, and were also super excited to see The Players! Linda was a treat.

Ryan, Harper and Cat were great at interacting with the students prior to the performance. “Put your hand up if anyone has seen Shakespeare performed live?” They ask. Only three hands shot up out of the 70+ students.

The students were all very engaged and had many laughs throughout. The teachers were thoroughly enjoying it also and the moment a teacher was required for audience involvement, Linda was thrilled to be selected and bolted to the stage floor.

The students were really engaged, and their facial expressions showed the impact of the Players’ storytelling on them. Just before Juliet was about to die in the tomb scene, I saw one year 7 student clutch her friend’s hand in anticipation. So sweet.

There was a Q and A session at the end of the show. Some of the things the students asked were:

“Is this the only Players group?" The Players shared details of the two teams of three touring to schools across Australia.

“Are the fight scenes difficult to learn?” The team shared their experience working with Fight Director Tim Dashwood; the process of building fight choreography into a show and daily fight calls before a performance. The students showed a lot of interest in this discipline and they asked about training institutions to become a fight director or intimacy coach.

The second performance at Bellingen High School was Macbeth: The Rehearsal, performing to 80 students from Years 9 -11. The Players prepped the audience beforehand about the false start/new dynamic of Macbeth: The Rehearsal, briefly explaining how the show is a completely different world to the last one they saw earlier today. The students once again were very polite, engaged, responsive, and very eager to volunteer for audience participation.

There were lots of great questions at the end:

“How did you get in to performing with Bell Shakespeare?”

“What inspired you to start acting?”

  • Catherine: “I pursued an academic career but still had an underlying passion for performing and went onto to study at WAAPA.”
  • Ryan: “I grew up in South Africa, and always felt it was something that I couldn’t pursue as a career, until reaching year 7 moving to QLD. A schoolteacher encouraged me to choose acting as a subject and then I started doing classes out of school. The joy to be able to tell a story brings me fulfilment.”
  • Harper:“ I was inspired by my Drama teacher. They saw something in me that I never saw in myself or believed. So I pursued a career in acting”.

Our third performance was Just Macbeth! (abridged), over at Bellingen Public School. On arrival we were greeted by a warm group of teachers. The school administrator was so tickled to hear that we had travelled all this way to perform for them, that he insisted on carrying most of our gear to the school hall! The help was much appreciated after the big lunch at the Butter Factory and the scorching heat.

The students were incredibly enthusiastic pre-show, and this energy carried the whole way through the performance. The students’ energy was infectious and boosted the energy in the room.

A teacher is selected and briefed on their audience interaction in the show (to kick King Duncan out of the arena!). But, the teacher forgot her role on stage and then suddenly raged at Danny to get out for being naughty. The teacher’s delivery was brilliant, and the students were rolling around laughing and stunned to see their teacher in this light. A huge round of applause followed.

During the post show Q&A, two kids suddenly ran on stage and did the ‘griddy dance’, which the Players do during the show. It was so well executed and I sensed this was absolutely planned during the show. There were heaps of lovely questions and students coming up to Players at the end to ask more.

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Tuesday, 19 September 2023

The drive from Bellingen to Dorrigo is beautiful, and the Players are gasping at the scenery the whole journey.

Driving into the school gates of Dorrigo High School we are met with two student boys dressed up in glorious drag, later to find out it’s “gender bender” day! The Year 12 students are in their final week of school, so they’re dressing in a new theme each day. Tomorrow is “dress as your parents”.

One of the teachers offers me a cup of tea from their staff room, just down the hall from the school hall. Karen and I are quick to spark a conversation and she shares that she moved to Dorrigo with her partner a year ago, and bought a block of land but lived in a tent for one year whilst they built their shed. Karen adores the school and students. Besides not having running water currently, she is glad to have made the move from the Central Coast to Dorrigo.

The performance space is a quaint school hall and we can here the cows mooing next door. There are only 114 students in the entire school, and largely dominated by males. Grade 11 has only one female student in the grade.

Our first performance is Such Sweet Sorrow for years 7 to 9 (50 students) . The students were quite chatty and cheeky entering the venue but during the performance they quietened down and were incredibly engaged. The students were quite reserved post-show and hesitant to ask any questions but one student plucked up the courage, along with being adamant we should see the Dorrigo Theatre. They have everything there apparently!

A volunteer from the audience was requested to read a line of Shakespeare that the Players have prepared on a piece of paper. The room went quiet, and students immediately bowed their head to avoid being chosen, until one male student put his hand up. The student had much difficulty reading the text in front of his peers, but his stride back showed he was proud of himself for plucking up the courage.

The next performance at Dorrigo High School was Macbeth: The Rehearsal for years 10 – 12 (40 students). The players ask for a show of hands who had seen live theatre, only two hands were raised.

The audience was majority male again, this group much livelier and more vocal throughout. The students were so impressed with the fight choreography, flinching and gasping throughout the fight scenes. This was absolutely their jam.

The Players were all packed up and ready to head to the car until Tessa, Emmie and Cassandra came in to chat with us. I’m so glad they did. Cassandra was very enthusiastic to ask The Players questions and advice about a future in acting. Catherine (Player), was incredibly generous with her feedback and advice. Seeing Cassandra’s face light up and feel enlightened by the Players was a special moment. We talked through the John Bell Scholarship and Casssandra was particularly interested to apply.

We wrap up our day and head to a café in Dorrigo. While ordering a coffee, a gentleman recognises my Bell Shakespeare t-shirt and tells me about his love for theatre and compliments the work that Bell Shakespeare does. The elderly gentlemen always wanted to be a Stage Manager for the opera but ended up working as a mounted policeman. He wasn’t sure it was the right choice, but he said it paid the bills.

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Wednesday, 20 September 2024

We wake to another beautiful day in Bellingen. Today’s performance is Just Macbeth! (abridged) at Mount St John School for 50 Primary students in years K-6. The venue is a beautiful classroom with natural light beaming in and looks out to a lush green oval and row of Leighten Green pines. During the performance, students were so enthusiastic and politely commenting when appropriate or when asked by The Players. In these moments when the students interjected it was evident they were enjoying it and following the detail of the storytelling. The teachers were enjoying the performance as much as the students.

A year 6 student was having a rough time prior to the show and the teacher asked her to leave and stand outside the classroom. When the show commenced, I left the classroom to take a call from the Twelfth Night touring company. On ending the call, the student made eye contact with me, so I said hello and introduced myself. She shared she was more interested in backstage, with a particular interest in costume design. The student later re-joined the performance and I was pleased to see her looking brighter and really enjoying herself.

During Q&A, the primary school questions were fabulous. They were particularly interested in the magic of theatre and how all the tricks and sound effects were achieved. The Players brought out some of the props to show how the sound effects were done behind their banner. I loved the detail of curiosity in these young minds.

The students were such kind and respectful young people. One young boy during Q&A said - “let’s give a round of applause to Mr Hazzet”. Mr Hazzet was the volunteer in the show and was new to teaching at Mount St John. One student asked, “how do you feel doing acting?”. Amazing question and wonder what other sparks of interest and questions are formulating!

As we leave the school the wonderful teachers say one final goodbye from the veranda. “Thank you so much for coming, we hope you come back!

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Thursday, 21 September 2024

It’s our final day of shows, and it’s a special one. The Players will be performing in the Bowraville Theatre, as Bowraville Central School doesn’t have a facility to host the performances on site.

We are welcomed by the Theatre Manager, Dale. It is a beautiful 1940’s theatre and is managed, staffed, and run by volunteers. Originally built and operated as a cinema, since 2013 it has been a venue for live theatre shows.

There was much enthusiasm and excitement among students lining up down the street waiting to get in to the theatre for the Players’ performance. Their excitement is infectious and they are all smiles and waves as they enter the Bowraville Theatre doors. We meet Meagan, a participant in Bell Shakespeare’s 2023 Regional Teacher Mentorship. Meagan is so happy to have us and thrilled when she’s asked to be the volunteer for the audience involvement. She later delivered a fabulous Prince, who gave it her all to get the Capulets and Montagues to stop fighting.

The first performance is Just Macbeth! (abridged) to 160 students in years 1 to 6. The crowd was full of energy and they got right into the Montague and Capulet chant! The students were very vocal with their reactions, especially during the fight sequences.

The afternoon performance is Such Sweet Sorrow to 50 students in years 7 to 10. The students were very engaged and responsive throughout. The performance is followed with a wonderful post-show Q&A with particular interest in how the show is put together, e.g. the rehearsal process, where the props come from and so on. The questions on the production elements of the show led to questions and interest in the various jobs in theatre making.

The Q&As and post-show conversations were a rewarding experience and by far a highlight of the week! The students and teachers said numerous times how lucky they were for this opportunity and were grateful to see the impact of the shows first-hand. The Players were so grateful for this opportunity, and it showed in their generosity of engagement with the students after the shows and on the school campuses.

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Want to find out more about how you can help send The Players to schools all over Australia? Get in touch at giving@bellshakespeare.com.au.