Time to perform - an interview with Gareth Warburton, Head of Creative Arts
Luckily for Giggleswick School, there wasn’t much money in making acoustic guitars 30 years ago.
Our Head of Creative Arts Gareth Warburton had no regrets as he reflected on what might have been as he applauded the latest outstanding school production, Wendy and Peter, staged in the school’s acclaimed Richard Whiteley Theatre in November. Gareth revealed he never intended to be a teacher when he left school. His first job, a guitar making apprenticeship, would have been his life, were it not for poor income prospects. His early career change was Giggleswick’s gain, as the leading northern independent school boasts an enviable 100 per cent pass rate at A* - B in A level theatre studies.
Said Gareth, who worked on instruments for Kris Kristofferson among others: “I loved it, but there was absolutely no money in it. Then I worked as a builder for a couple of years and I was in a band. We were doing quite well, and were offered a contract, but we all fell out, so that was the end of that. The opportunity to teach crossed my path and once I had made that decision, my main focus was to make amends for the poor teaching I had come across as a child. I was determined, if I was going to be a teacher, I was going to do it to the best of my ability.”
Judging by this year’s results – which are just the latest in a long line of consistently high marks in A level theatre studies at Giggleswick over recent years – Gareth has indeed fulfilled his teaching ambitions. As well as being passionate about his subject, he is at the cutting edge of developing the curriculum for young people. As a principal examiner for Edexcel he was involved in writing the new A level specification.
It’s an exciting time for drama at Giggleswick. The school has the state of the art Richard Whiteley Theatre, thanks to a bequest from the late broadcaster and journalist who was a former pupil. Richard was inspired, in turn, by his English teacher, another TV favourite, the late Russell Harty.
Said Gareth: “It’s a community theatre within Giggleswick’s campus with professional facilities far beyond what most schools dream of. We have put on a wide variety of plays and shows, from the latest contemporary works to last year’s highly successful Les Miserables and this year’s totally different Wendy and Peter. Professional theatre companies regularly come to perform at the Richard Whiteley Theatre and we have workshops with the actors as well as access to the shows, which is all hugely inspirational for the pupils.”
Thirty minute Shakespeare, for example, is created for the National Shakespeare Schools Festival every year, and an annual trip to see shows in London highlights Giggleswick’s special relationship with Shakespeare’s Globe, which dates back to the school’s support of the initial project to restore the theatre. This in turn had developed from it becoming the first school to perform Hamlet at Elsinore Castle in the eighties.
Gareth said: “Every child between years six and nine is taught drama and there are opportunities for everyone to get involved in productions. Our students are confident and proud of what they achieve and they create memories for life in the drama studio and on stage. We aim to create a centre of excellence with a national reputation for the academic and co-curricular celebration of drama.”
One group of A level students refused to let leaving school end their dramatic relationship and went on to form their own theatre company, With Wings. The group has subsequently performed at the Edinburgh Fringe for the last three years and won prestigious awards. One of its members is musician and actor Tom Figgins, who is rapidly making a name for himself, counting the likes of radio and TV personality Chris Evans among his many fans.
In what is becoming the norm for Giggleswick productions, Wendy and Peter was very well received and attracted audiences including the local community, not just parents. What stood out for the local newspaper’s critic, the Craven Herald’s Gill O’Donnell, was the team effort evident in staging Wendy and Peter.
She wrote: “It was certainly on a par with, and in many respects better than, many professional productions in terms of staging and direction. The level of acting was such that the audience happily suspended disbelief and were carried along with the action. The real key to the evening's success however was the teamwork which pulled the piece together, apparent in the hard work which had clearly taken place in order to make it look so totally natural. Congratulations to all concerned for having the courage to tackle such a difficult concept and turn it into such an enjoyable evening for everyone.”
And therein lies the key to Gareth and Giggleswick’s success with drama – the pride, sheer enjoyment and downright good fun which goes hand in hand with being a part of a team. Together they form a theatre company staging a successful show, where everyone has a crucially important part to play, whether on or off stage. The huge, motivational cheer from back stage which rang out across Giggleswick’s campus half an hour before curtain-up on the opening night of Wendy and Peter was all the proof needed of that.