Anansi the Spider re-spun during Lockdown

Cath Greenwood, Learning Associate at Unicorn Theatre, the UK’s leading theatre for young audiences, reflects on their work to inspire creativity in schools through performance practice.

The Unicorn is a theatre specialising in working with children and young people, with a year-round programme of new work for babies to young adults based in central London. We provide learning resources, continued professional development (CPD) for teachers , workshops and in-school residency projects to support our work on stage and online.

Supporting schools during the pandemic

Like many other theatres in the first lockdown we turned our attention to what we could do to support schools at this challenging time. We consulted with some of our dedicated teachers on zoom asking how we could help, given the pressures they were under and the fast-changing environment for schools.

Teachers told us of their concerns for the mental and emotional health of their pupils and their belief that continuing creative learning and arts-based subjects felt a priority for them at this time. The challenge was how to do that in a way that didn’t create more work for teachers, but gave them well thought out programmes that they could easily pick up and use with their pupils both online and in the socially distanced classroom.

Anansi the spider re-spun

Since March 2020 Unicorn has adapted a number of our plays for online release. In this blog I’ll focus on Anansi. We adapted our stage production of the Anansi stories, creating three short films that could be watched at home or in the classroom and launched them in October 2020 as part of our programme for Black History Month.

Creative connections to Black History Month

The death of George Floyd and the subsequent drive within education to address representation and find ways to diversify the curriculum motivated us to re-write the resources, not only for use during lockdown, but also in a way that acknowledged the origins of these stories; how they travelled the world as a result of the black diaspora and in particular the transatlantic slave trade. What parts of history, as reflected in the story’s journey, could we explore with KS1 children and how could we support teachers to do this?

We worked with Samantha Adams, a storyteller and drama therapist, to create resources which explore the idea of story, home, and journey. The lessons include short films with Samantha as storyteller, taking the children on a journey across the sea to find Anansi stories; first in West Africa where the stories originate and then on a more difficult journey, leaving home in Ghana, to travel to the Caribbean.

Drama, storytelling, art and short writing activities are suggested for use before and after watching the online Anansi stories, performed by three actors. The activities use the metaphor of a sea journey and support children in sharing their own stories of home, journeying and family celebrations which connect to the themes within the online plays.

The power of Zoom

Two practical CPD sessions on Zoom supported teachers through the practical activities in the resource packs. The feedback from teachers and schools has been fantastic, we’ve pulled out three of our favourite testimonials below:

'There is one black child in my class, and he was SO PROUD when we spoke about Black History Month and shared your videos and other Anansi stories.'
'They particularly enjoyed the discussion we had about the concept of 'home' being different for everyone, as people have associations with many places and countries. '
'Those that already knew of the Anansi stories or who were from/had family in/had visited Ghana or the West Indies, took great pride in sharing their knowledge and the other children showed a real interest in what they had to say and their experiences.'

Teachers wanting to use these resources can easily:

  • Develop children’s imagination as they act out setting sail across the sea to West Africa to discover the Anansi stories.
  • Encourage children to celebrate their different cultural identities and family backgrounds as they plan their perfect family party choosing their favourite food, entertainment and special guests.
  • Develop children’s creative writing as they create their own stories about the trickster spider to add to the story box.
  • Learn the song from Brother Anansi and Brother Snake using the video with Afia, one of the actors.

Watch the three Anansi films

Cath Greenwood is a Learning Associate at the Unicorn Theatre in London @unicorn_schools

    • Type
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    • Cath Greenwood, Unicorn Theatre

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    • Covid-19

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