Saturday, September 18

Interview with Oliver Senton of ‘The School of Night’

After a long time away from the stage, the Fraters are set to return with their first shows being held at a rather unique location; the ‘Willow Globe’ in Wales.  Following their inaugural gig many years ago at ‘Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre’, it seems only fitting now that they return to a replica of ‘The Globe’, that was grown organically by planting willow in the shape of Shakespeare’s magnificent theatre.  The School of Night’s unusual and eccentric type of improvising stimulates the literary appetite, whilst catching you off guard with their humorous sleight of hand.  This event at the ‘Willow Globe’ is to be held on the 11th of September at 3pm and 7pm.

To book tickets for this event go to https://www.shakespearelink.org.uk/productions/2021/9/11/the-school-of-night

For further information about ‘The School of Night’ go to  http://www.theschoolofnight.com/what-is-the-school/

When and where did ‘The School of Night’ last perform together?

Our last live gig was for The Shakespeare Institute in Stratford in February 2020, though we did an online workshop for the National Student Drama Festival in March of this year. But a big gig, a gathering of more than three members of The School, as we believe The Willow Globe will be? That would take us back to 2018, and the celebrations at The British Library for the tenth anniversary of Ken Campbell’s death.

Why did you choose ‘The Willow Globe’ to stage your return?

It had been spoken about in hushed tones by a number of colleagues; and it seems so special – unique, even. We’ve always sought out unusual venues and events to perform in, whether that’s Elsinore Castle, a German rock festival, a fairy portal in Stratford, or Jeremy Beadle’s library (The Beadleian, as it’s known).

The maverick theatre maker Ken Campbell had a hand in forming ‘The School of Night’.  Can you tell us how you came together?

Ken rediscovered improvisation about 2005, and he was invited by Mark Rylance to host a gig, entitled Shall We Shog? as part of the Globe’s celebrations for Shakespeare’s birthday that year. He assembled several amazing teams of folk and had a kind of ‘It’s A Knockout’ of extemporising. The core of our group (and much of our approach) came out of that event.

For those who do not know ‘The School of Night’, can you describe your style of improvising/extemporising?  And has this style evolved over the years?

Our website says ‘Suppose you could summon the ancient Muses? Suppose you could extemporise everything from Pinter to Shakespeare?’ That’s a good start. On the one hand, maybe it’s impossible. On the other… suppose it’s not? The original idea was of a secret, underground group who could improvise in any style, dramatic, poetic, or musical; but that developed into more of a group of youngish performers being yelled at by The Goader (Ken), “Shouting at us”, as he put it “to do the impossible, and then punishing us when we failed.” Then after Ken died, we developed more of an egalitarian, ‘co-goading’ approach. But we still shout at each other when we get things wrong. That’s part of the fun.

You seem to be particularly drawn to Shakespeare and Chaucer.  Why is that?

Shakespeare is a useful hook you can hang things on, and both

that and Chaucer are forms people recognise, even if they think they know nothing about them. It feels like a suitably high-wire act, and in Edinburgh or at other festivals, audiences need a starting point, so they have some idea of what they’re watching. But we like to do all sorts of things given the chance: in 2012, we did a full Beckett-themed show, with new Joyce and Dante procedures, to accompany Trevor Nunn’s production of Beckett’s All That Fall at The Jermyn Street Theatre. If you’re at The Shakespeare Institute, you can risk being a bit more specialist and geeky with your references: if you’re at a working men’s club, you grab the crowd in different ways.

Do you see ‘The School of Night’ ever performing in the modern medium of digital theatre, or is your style very firmly rooted on the stage?

Funnily enough, we’re just in discussions to do a course of online sessions with a terrific bunch out in Malaysia called The KL Shakespeare Players. We can teach them improvisation in iambics and blank verse, and in return we get to absorb some of their ideas and learn new legends and tales from Asia. So, although we love the rough magic of live gigs, it would be foolish to close ourselves off from all the new opportunities out there.

You were once a part of a week-long devising group who performed in Stratford in collaboration with the Royal Shakespeare Company.  The event was called ‘The Fairy Portal Camp’.  Can you see yourselves taking part in something similar again?

Given the opportunity, absolutely. That was a collaboration with Slung Low, Rash Dash, Benji Kirkpatrick and other brilliant folk to mark the Stratford man’s quatercentenary. We improvised poems about classical myths with the amazing Nima Taleghani, did new faery poems in the style of Marie de France and created a wonderful temporary community. Anything that creates a creative, nurturing, non-commercial environment is a wonderful thing to be part of.

After so long without performing, have you been working on any new ideas for future performances?

Apart from the Malaysia project, we’ve been invited back, COVID willing, to The English Theatre of Hamburg which we played ten years ago. So that will need fresh ideas – and every new date we’re asked to do is driven by the place, time, and circumstances of that particular challenge, so it never stands still. We run about a bit less than we used to these days, but The Willow Globe gigs should have a few surprises for those who are looking!

The School of Night’ Fraternity

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