Annual Stratford Shakespeare Festival School Trip
I just returned from the annual school trip to Stratford, Ontario where we attended the 2010 Stratford Shakespeare Festival. It’s an internationally renowned festival that occurs from April to November each year which has been in operation for over half a century. They offer a variety of theatre selections from all major theatre time periods, but Shakespeare’s works account for a quarter of each playbill.
Highly Recommended Trip
It’s my second year planning and organizing this trip. It has been a long-standing tradition in our school, running for 20+ years. Since we live in Northern Ontario, it’s a 10 hour drive to attend the festival; it has proved to be well worth the money and the travel to attend this prestigious theatre festival which is the biggest of its kind in the world.
The Plays We Attended
We attended two plays—Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie and As You Like It by William Shakespeare—and two musicals—Evita with the music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and the lyrics by Tim Rice; and Kiss Me, Kate based in the book by Bela and Samuel Spewack, and the music and lyrics by Cole Porter. We used to attend at least two Shakespeare selections in keeping with our original purpose in attending the festival which was to create an opportunity for students to experience live, professional theatre productions and, in particular, view Shakespearean plays that relate to the curriculum studied at our school. Now the students request to see more musicals because they love the singing, dancing and choreography that are a part of such a production. They also prefer to attend more comedy than tragedy. (Last year we attended two tragedies, Macbeth and Julius Ceasar; one musical, West Side Story; and one comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The only one I would change in hindsight would be Julius Ceasar. If only we could have seen Cyrano De Bergerac or A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum!) Neither was offered on the days we were scheduled to attend.
Next Season’s Plays We’ll Attend
Next seasons playbill has been released and we have chosen similar selections to last year: Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night, Frank Galati’s play of John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s musical Jesus Christ Superstar, and Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s musical Camelot. The students are already excited about the new line up which is quite upbeat and student friendly. The stories are quite straightforward and understandable to the average person. The modern student is more interested in spectacle and humour. We also don’t often have the opportunity to prep the students for the plays with much more than a synopsis of story. There are times when they feel lost and unsure of what is happening during the play which is not a positive experience.
Professional Theatre Interdisciplinary Course
We would like to offer a Professional Theatre Studies Interdisciplinary course at our school where the students in the class would study the productions that we will be viewing on the trip in detail prior to the trip. Planning for this course occurred during the 2009-10 school year; however, not enough students signed up for the course and it was removed from the school’s timetable as a result. We will try to offer this course again next year, but pending adequate sign up it may not run again. There are four units in this course: The Productions, Theatre as Business, Beyond the Actor: Roles in Theatre Companies, Using Media on Stage, and Managing/Promoting a Production (as the culminating activity). These students would be managing and promoting the grade eleven drama class’ culminating activity dramatic presentation. I still think this is a fantastic idea, and I hope it has a chance to run next year.
Trip Planning: The Handouts
In planning a trip of this magnitude, there are many things to plan and manage. First of all, you must create the appropriate handouts to advertise the trip. I make one handout that outlines the details of the trip. Parents want to know why this trip is valuable or has educational merit for their child. They also want to know how they will be travelling, where they will be staying, and what rules will be instituted during the trip. Parents want to be confident that the teacher(s) and supervisor(s) on the trip will treat their children well and keep them safe. Staying at a quality hotel is important even though it’s more expensive. Cost is an important consideration, but a clean, safe room in a hotel with a good reputation will go a long way in making parents feel comfortable with your travel arrangements. A couple of weeks before the trip, students should be given an itinerary to give to their parents; I give the students another while on the bus. Having them bring back a signed slip shows you that it was in fact given to the parent.
Trip Planning: Travel Arrangements
Secondly, the travel arrangements should be safe. Taking a coach or a school bus (with a driver whose only responsibility is driving) is the best travel arrangements. Those supervising the students have enough responsibility, so if they are driving too, they are assuming too much responsibility. Even the bus driver has hour of service limits based on Federal and Provincial laws that are designed to keep travelers safe. The tour organizer is as responsible as the driver for following these rules; as the tour organizer, you can be fined for not following the hour of service limits, so it’s important that you are familiar with the rules. Plan your travel agenda accordingly! Our first day and last day of this four day trip are travel days with some shopping since we stop for meals at shopping centers. The second and third day are primarily focused on attending the four plays at 2 pm and 8 pm each day.
Trip Planning: Schedule of Activities
Next, it’s important that the students have a full schedule of activities to keep them busy. Too much idle time almost always leads to questionable (or rambunctious) behavior. Some rest time is important, but keeping them busy during the day will help to reduce the rambunctious activity in the late evening—a time when teens typically want to socialize. We keep a solid curfew where students must be in their own rooms by midnight, and lights must be out at 12:15 am. I suggest never extending the curfew. The students will have the opportunity to socialize in the morning, and they will be in better shape for the next day’s activities. Going to a play when you are sleepy is not a good idea! There will be quieter moments in the play, and it’s at those times that the sleepy may actually nod off if they haven’t had enough sleep.
Since we are from the north and don’t have a university in our city, we take a free university tour. There are a few within an hour’s distance of our accommodation, so we do this in the morning. The Stratford downtown is a quaint touristy environment that boasts many book stores, artesian shops, upscale clothing stores, unique coffee shops, a variety of restaurants, and a phenomenal toy store. The Family and Company Toy Store is a must visit that the students love—they are still kids at heart! Instead of the attitude of “don’t touch anything,” at this store they say “touch everything…have fun”! There are sample toys to try around the store and the sales people have fun, flinging toy slingshot monkeys around the store, and more.
Trip Planning: Groups and Schools Department
There are other activities offered by the Groups and Schools department of the festival. Not only will they provide you with the best seating possible, they will also assist you with itinerary planning, tours, and arranging behind-the-scenes events with actors and the creative team. Behind-the-scenes events include concerts, tours, lectures and discussions. Many of these options are free! One favourite of our students is the costume warehouse tour which has a cost of $6/student and $8/adults. There is a maximum of ten students per tour, and tours start every 15 minutes, so there will be some planning if you have a large group. We plan to make this an option next year during the morning that shopping downtown is offered. After taking the tour, these students can join the rest of the group in the downtown area. We may also offer a behind-the-scenes tour option on the other available morning. Since some students are not as interested in the university tour, they may choose this theatre experience instead. The behind-the-scenes experience at the Festival Theatre allows the students to see backstage, the rehearsal hall, and the prop and wardrobe departments. This tour is the same price as the Costume Warehouse Tour.
Currently, we need to attract more students to the trip. It used to sell out every year (50 students), but now we are struggling to get 40. It’s important to offer the educational activities and to build other activities into the itinerary that they feel are “WOW!” We had our students give feedback at the end of the trip, and based on that feedback, we have decided to create options next year instead of determining one schedule for all. They will have to commit in advance to activities that cost extra since an exact tour time must be booked.
Trip Planning: Money & Form Collection
Finally, there must be a method for payment and collection of forms. For our trip, a student must pay a 30% deposit to secure a spot on the trip. We advertise and take registrations for the next year’s trip all of the previous school year; the advertising begins in November for the trip that will occur in September or October of the following year. During the year, students can pay for their trip in installments to spread the cost over the year. The deposit is non-refundable after May 1st, and any additional funds paid toward the trip are non-refundable after May 31st. The trip must be paid in full by mid-June. For four theatre tickets, three night accommodation (four person occupancy), and travel in a motor coach, we have charged $375 for the last 12 years. It is necessary to increase the cost of the trip next year because we ran a deficit this year. Based on the cost increases for the coach (gas and taxes), hotel (taxes), and tickets (taxes), it is necessary to increase the cost. The trip will cost $425 next year. One benefit of the increase will be the full breakfast that is provided by the hotel, so students will have their breakfast included in the cost of the trip. Typically students bring about $100 on the trip for food and shopping.
When a student pays the deposit, I give him/her a receipt and a dual form that must be signed by the student and the parent: the first form is a behavior contract for the student; the second form is a permission form/agreement for the parent. Included in this contract are the expectations for behavior and consequences if the rules are broken, and medical information (health card number, doctor’s name and phone number, and any pertinent medical information including food allergies). It is a part of our policy that if a student breaks a major school rule that is outlined in the discipline policy, the student will be sent home at the parent’s expense. In all the years of the trip, only one student has ever been sent home. When a student returns the signed form, I request their parental contact information. You could have the parents fill in their contact information if it’s included on the permission form.
Advertising Your Trip
Advertising your trip to parents is important. It is sometimes because parents become aware of the trip that a student signs up and encourages their friends to sign up. Spread the word using report card mailings, the school website, parent interview nights, and other school events that bring parents into the school. We also use morning announcements and visits to all the academic English classes and Drama classes. All students must take English each year, so we advertise to the students most likely to attend, which are those in the Academic/University stream. Those actually taking Drama are interested because they already have an interest in theatre, so there’s a draw for students there as well. The Drama teacher and I plan the trip together, each attracting different students to the trip.
Print promotional resources are provided by the Groups and Schools Department to help you advertise your event. There are short videos that could be downloaded and used for this purpose as well. There may be a DVD available in the near future. These resources are available on the promotional page of the festival site.
Rules and Expectations for Student Behaviour
While on the trip, we expect the students to follow all school rules, including dress code. If it’s not permissible at school, it’s not permissible on the trip. In particular, we do not allow t-shirts with inappropriate messages or skirts that are above the finger tips; however, if the skirt is above the knee, the student is expected to also wear nylons or tights. We want to teach them to look presentable and classy when attending a professional theatre event. In addition, we expect all cell phones to be turned off before the start of the show and for students to sit quietly during the productions. At times, we do have to address whispering during the show. The Groups and Schools department provides us with an outline of theatre etiquette, so this is an opportunity to learn those conventions with which they may not be familiar. Since we don’t have a professional theatre in our city or even nearby, they may not be familiar with the behavior and dress expectations. Amateur theatre presentations in our city are not as stringent in expectations.
Planning a school trip of this magnitude requires organization, flexibility and problem solving (for when the unexpected arises), and good judgment; however, the successful execution of such a trip is very rewarding. The students have a great time while learning something that they couldn’t have learned in the classroom!