30 04 2013


Officially, as a pillar of the community, I have little tolerance of swear words. I expect high standards of literacy from my students and about 90% of the times that they hastily mutter a tirade of swear words under their breath, there are usually at least a dozen better ways of expressing their displeasure at their situation.

However, as a Drama teacher I often find myself in situations where my students are enacting real life on stage and whether we like it or not – in life people swear. It makes perfect sense that an actor enacting a role may use language that is not natural to them and I refuse to censor my students. However I would never force them to use language that they are uncomfortable with either! This is an issue that arises particularly, although not exclusively, in GCSE and A-Level classes. In terms of the examination, the language/dialogue is part of their overall characterisation and as such must reflect the people inhabiting the world of the play.

It would be ludicrous for a student playing the role of a builder who upon dropping a hammer on his toe exclaims the words “Oh golly gosh, that stings a bit!” A hormonal teenager does not necessarily profess his or her desire to “make love” and sometimes the only means of aptly describing the behaviour of the less savoury human beings in life requires language that I would shudder to read on a public lavatory wall.

Swearing has its place. As with all things it loses its power out of context or with overuse – but like it or not it is part of our verbal communication and provides a means of expressing our true intent and meaning in a manner that is just as valid as the flowery romance of a renaissance poet, the rhetoric of a politician or the persuasive language abundant in modern advertising campaigns.

The head of Yr11 recently paid a visit to my Drama class to observe her students in the run up to their exam. After complimenting their work ethic and expressing her joy at seeing even the more challenging students working on a performance requiring collaboration and commitment; she regaled me with a witty anecdote about an external visitor being given a tour of the school. Apparently this tour was rudely interrupted by the repeated use of the dreaded “F” word echoing from the theatre. These were good kids in the midst of a Drama rehearsal, who do not tend to swear outside of lessons but who decided that censoring the script would rob it of its character. An explanation and apology was offered to the visitor who simply raised one overly plucked eyebrow and said “GCSE Drama I suppose?”

I frequently quote the taboo words in the context of my lessons. By quoting swear words directly from texts and removing all the emotion from my voice and face I manage to diffuse the impact of these words. Nothing makes a swear word less evocative than hearing your teacher say it in a neutral tone with a blank facial expression! After all if we arent shocked by it, what is the point of saying it? I am also explicit with younger classes who show up on occassion to provide exam groups with an audience and I warn them about the adult content and language. I remind them that we only invite younger audiences to view work if they are mature enough to respond responsibly. It is worth noting that I have never had so much as a giggle from an audience member when a swear word has been used during a performance and I am confident that this is because I tackle it head on.

Swearing has a time and a place – in moderation – just like any other type of language. Sadly; as is the case with so many other things in life, we cannot protect our children from “bad language” altogether. We can simply educate them about finding alternative means of expression. I am not suggesting by any means that we should either encourage or discourage swearing; but attempting to pretend it does not exist or wipe it from existence is as futile as holding back the tide. The bigger our reaction – the more likely it is to become a major source of rebellion and conflict.

In summary: To hell with censorship – LIFE IS TOO F”*KING SHORT.


5 03 2013


In my role as a Drama teacher, I have had the dubious pleasure of marking coursework over the last month.

After 20 almost identical responses to the same stimulus I started to become frustrated with the limited voabulary of my students. Every student in my class described the posture of their character as “hunched” which was my blinking example! (I want to use a “stronger” word but it seems inappropriate in a post about education and use of language)

I am appealing to anyone with even the most basic grasp of the English language to help me devise a list of key words to do with the use of the following things:

Facial Expression, Movement, Voice (language & sound), Posture and Atmosphere.

In the brief time I have devoted to this task this evening I have come up with the following:

Facial Expression: grimace, wince, frown, blush, smile, wink, snarl, set jaw, raised eyebrow(s), glare, stare, contorted, screwed up, cringe, recoil, glower, puckered brow, mope, beam, grin, smirk, twinkle, sparkle, sneer, knotted, twisted, squirm, flinch, shrink, shy away, cower

Movement: jerk, twitch, kick, flinch, jump, run, skip, wiggle, shimmy, shake, limp, quiver, shudder, strut, stroll, wander, meander, somersault, leap, skulk, slither, slide, yank, tug, pull, wrench, tweak, jolt, spasm, convulse, tremble, contract, lash out, jolt, thrust, baulk, draw back, bound, soar, shoot, jig, sprint, jog, scuttle, scamper, dart, dash, scurry, prance, twist, shiver, wobble, vibrate, hobble, shuffle, bend, floppy, wilted, flacid, quake, vibrate, tremor, palpitation, swagger, march, parade, amble, saunter, ramble, dive, hurdle, lurk, loiter, creep, prowel, glide, skip, slide, snatch, heave, haul, heave, push, ripple.

Voice: stammer, stutter, slur, bark, purr, cry, wail, howl, grunt, gasp, shout, whisper, yell, scream, drone, monotone, intone, immitate, thunder, falter, hesistate, speech immpediment, rumble, mumble, murmur, wheeze, pant, puff, sigh, whine, rumble, hesitate, fade, tail off,

Posture: slumped, slouched, hunched, upright, tense, drooping, wilting, flabby, floppy, curved, bent, arched, stooped, erect, straight, vertical, horizontal,

Atmosphere: chaotic, frenzied, calm, triumphant, serene, celebratory, scary, spooky, intense, electric, intimidating, horrifying, peaceful, relaxed, rushed, confused, sickening, gruesome, shocking, disordered, muddled, messy, untidy, hectic, hyperactive, harried, hysterical, posessed, tranquil, still, composed, unruffled, victorious, exltant, passionate, extreme, severe, thrilling, stimulating, threatening, frightening, menacing, nerve-wracking,

Please help me to devise a more comprehensive list and help to restore my faith in language skills. There must be some people who still have a good command of the English language. For what it is worth; I myself far from perfect, my spelling is horrific and I make frequent grammatical errors but I do check my work and make changes when possible improvements are identified and I would like to think that if occasson demanded I would be able to express myself well using the written word.

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Brush up your Shakespeare

5 02 2013

Brush up your Shakespeare

I was introduced to the great Bard when I was 10 years old.

I saw my first live performance of Hamlet in the Lyric Theatre in Belfast. It was an intimate performance space staging a dark and brooding interpretation of the text. The story had me gripped from start to finish. I loved the passionate dialogue beautifully delivered by the Northern Irish actors, the stunning Elizabethan costumes and the tense, energetic stage combat sequences. I was hooked and became a devoted fan of Shakespeare that night, a passion that has remained with me to this day.

My parents took me to see Hamlet to quash my desire to work in the acting industry or at least to educate me about the existence of genres other than pantomime. They could not have predicted my response and my Dad endured my enthusiastic evaluation of every moment of the performance during the car journey home.

That evening marked my introduction to the world’s greatest ever playwright and up to the point when the actors walked onto the stage and started to speak, I had no preconceptions about Shakespeare whatsoever. There are no words that can express how grateful I am to my parents for giving me this experience but also the theatre company for creating such a memorable interpretation of what remains my favourite play of all time.

It was a combination of my own lack of fear or judgement when I watched this performance and the skilful delivery of the actors that enabled me to develop an ear for the language. My parents had never used “dumbed” down language at home with me, if I didn’t understand a big word I would simply ask what it meant. Their use of language also encouraged me to deduce the meaning of words from context. I was taught the importance of good grammar and corrected if I used ‘saw’ instead of ‘seen’ or ‘did’ instead of ‘done’. Language was valued in my household with a mother who was a linguist and a father who shared my love of the stage. However I am regularly reminded that my experience is not exactly typical.

The mention of Shakespeare in the hearing of most teenagers is usually greeted by much sighing, rolling of eyes and inarticulate groans, (reinforcing my view that they need better language skills with which to express themselves). I am not suggesting that Shakespeare’s cannon of work will ever be universally loved by all, but it is disheartening to discover that much of the fear and distrust of Shakespeare exists before students have ever even opened one of Shakespeare’s plays.

Students tell me what their parents thought about learning Shakespeare or their older brothers and sisters. Sometimes they confess to a bad experience of being asked to read a lengthy monologue aloud in an English lesson with difficult words that they couldn’t pronounce. (There are many amazing English teachers who deliver ‘Outstanding’ lessons about Shakespeare). During my teacher training I was horrified the number of trainees who were nervous about teaching Shakespeare. I am equally dissatisfied by the quality of some of the independent training bought in by schools and passed off as education, not to mention the clumsy attempts by some theatre companies to put their own stamp on these wonderful stories.

While I personally love traditional interpretations of Shakespearean plays, I am definitely in favour of modern adaptations and am not concerned by editing as even I do not want to sit for 4 hours in a theatre. The universal themes of the plays will ensure the stories always remain relevant to a modern audience but as the language becomes less assessable in an age obsessed with more visual stimuli and a low attention span, it is inevitable that directors will chose to edit the material and use modern design elements to engage with new audiences.

So to go back to the title of this post: Brush up your Shakespeare!

Get to know the intricate plots and diverse characters. Engage with the universal themes and opportunity to explore the human condition. Don’t let the language put you off, try to work out the meaning through the context or say the words aloud and see if they remind you of other words (after all, Will did invent a fair few words and phrases in the English language). Finally, if you have a bad experience in an English lesson or see a boring version of a play, don’t write it off immediately.

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