The Beacon School Leaderboard 09/05

Pupils Enjoy Drama Masterclass with Sir Ian McKellen

Published on isbi School News dated Friday 5th of November 2010

GCSE Drama students at Bolton School Boys' Division enjoyed a drama class with a difference when Sir Ian McKellen, an Old Boy of the School, dropped in on their lesson.

Sir Ian was back in his old school to put his name to the boys' drama studio. After a brief unveiling of the plaque which read "McKellen Studio Theatre", Sir Ian gave a talk reminiscing about his days at Bolton School, which he attended from 1951-58 and where he was Captain (Head Boy). Sir Ian said: "I remember my days at school vividly and with great affection. I used to love going back to school at this time of year. Even now I think how excited pupils must be as they go back to school. The school has a great tradition in the liberal arts and I spent a lot of my time performing drama. All the other boys would be off playing football or cricket but I did an awful lot of acting - French plays, Greek plays, short plays - one a term and an annual production in the Great Hall. The teachers were very enthusiastic and I learnt that acting was an honourable thing to do and not just something for oddballs. I performed my first Shakespeare at Bolton School as Malvolio in Twelfth Night. I've always acted for the love of it and this first love was inspired at Hopefield, which was the school's theatre at the time - an old Edwardian house on Chorley New Road. If this drama studio has the spirit of Hopefield, then it is a wonderful asset."

Sir Ian then entered the studio and sat in on a GCSE Drama lesson, offering his advice as the boys performed a number of short, wordless sketches highlighting the reserve of the British public. The students performed admirably and Sir Ian congratulated them on their work. He then regaled the boys with a whole host of tips on acting as did his companion for the day, fellow actor Antony Cotton (who plays Sean Tully in Coronation Street). The secret of acting is to be as natural and relaxed as possible and to absorb yourself fully in the character. He said that when he was a boy of their age he noticed how a lot of actors came onto stage and immediately grabbed a piece of furniture to hide behind. He said he had studiously tried to avoid doing this in his own acting career. Sir Ian explained the difference between acting on stage and in films, saying: "On film, you mustn't think too much about what effect you are having - you should just be in the character. Don't over-present. In the theatre it is different and you need to be much more aware of your surroundings - you need to project your voice to the back of the theatre for one."

Boys were then given the opportunity to ask Sir Ian questions. Asked what his favourite role had been he said he tried not to look back too much as the character he is currently playing "might get jealous." However, he did have fond memories of playing Macbeth at Stratford and advised the boys to watch the dvd. Sir Ian thought that acting in films is more demanding than the theatre as you do not have time to finesse your lines. With theatre, as in his recent work playing Estragon in Waiting for Godot, he had 380 performances to round his character!

In order to "leave something in the air" in the studio theatre Sir Ian then gave a soliloquy from a play co-written by Shakespeare called Sir Thomas More. Sir Ian had played the lead role in the first ever rendition of the play, which took place at Nottingham Playhouse in 1964. Before leaving the McKellen Studio Theatre he signed his name on the wall.

Sir Ian then took lunch in the School's Arts Centre before holding a discussion with the Literary and Debating Society about tolerance and homosexuality. Nicholas Fairclough, a Year 12 student, said: "It was a real pleasure to listen to Sir Ian. He talked about gay rights with great passion and gravitas and the audience was enthralled. He told us to go out and spread the message about gay rights throughout the school. He said very often these days it is up to pupils to educate teachers and parents on this issue."

The School has a record of producing fine actors and is also regularly visited by Ralf Little, who returns to play in an Old Boys' badminton team.
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