Learning from experience: The Literary London Tour hopes to spark interest in arts for UAE pupils

As the number of art students dwindles at schools, a new literary tour to Shakespeare's birthplace and West End plays and workshops aims to revive the passion for creative courses among UAE youngsters.

Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London. Courtesy John Wildgoose
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Highlighting a worrying trend at UK-curriculum schools, the Warwick Commission found that the number of pupils choosing creative subjects at GCSE level fell by half this year.

To address the imbalance and reignite a passion for the arts, UAE schools are promoting overseas cultural adventures for their students.

The Literary London Tour has been introduced by Compass International, an educational travel and tourism agency, to transport middle and high-school students out of the classroom environment and into the hub of performing arts and media activity in the UK capital.

The seven-day trip, tailored to complement school literary courses, includes workshops and visits to West End plays, ­Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and ­Shakespeare’s Birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire.

“We thought it is necessary to introduce a tour that promotes arts, media and theatre for ­students,” says Lissy Donald, managing director of Compass International.

“This interactive tour not only inspires them, but provides a different perspective through hands-on learning.”

At the same time, she says, it helps students to come out of their shell. “Attending these workshops and travelling abroad to witness culturally and ­historically-rich sites makes them more confident, as well,” she says.

The company works with schools on an itinerary based on students’ interests. Each group of between 10 and 30 students are accompanied by a teacher and a guide to the historical locations.

“This tour is very popular at schools that look to offer an excursion to their older students every year,” says Donald.

“Because theory, even when it comes to arts and literature, makes more sense with practical work.”

A tour of Oxford University, where they can gain insights into arts courses, is also on the itinerary. There is also a day visit to Warner Bros Studios, where the Harry Potter film series was shot, as well as a backstage tour of the Charlie and the Chocolate ­Factory theatre production.

“It’s a mixed bag of activities,” says Donald. “We include different workshops, so that every students has something of interest during the trip.”

Students can also participate in interactive street-jazz workshops, encouraging them to explore hip-hop, R&B, jazz or contemporary dance when they return home. For the more stage-­inclined, the Nose2Nose arts group organises improv and acting workshops.

Gabriela Uzunova, a student of Cambridge International School in Dubai, said she had a defining moment while attending a West End play on one of the tours.

"Every night we watched a West End play," says the 18-year-old. "One of the first we saw was Wicked, and I remember sitting in the audience enamoured by the lights and this beautiful theatre. At that time I thought to myself, 'How great it would be if I can perform on a stage like this one day'."

Uzunova, who is in Grade 13, has opted for psychology, literature, arts and media in her final year at school. During the tour, she attended drama workshops, during which she was exposed to new techniques and acting methods.

“I’ve always been a creative person and I love expressing myself through arts and drama,” she says.

“That trip helped me gain ­confidence overall because we had to face an audience after each drama class we took. Now I’m way more confident about expressing myself and sharing my ideas and opinions.”

She is now involved in backstage duties for the school’s upcoming winter performance.

“I couldn’t take performing arts as a subject because not many students signed up for the ­programme and they couldn’t offer it,” she says. “But I stay back and help the drama teacher ­because I love being a part of stage.”

The literary tour starts from Dh9,000. For more details visit www.compassuae.com