The Youth Theatre have loved working with archaeologist, Toby Pillatt and students from the University Of Sheffield and Toby has kindly agreed to share his experiences in our blog.
Over the past two months I’ve been working with students from the University of Sheffield to help Growtheatre learn about and dramatise aspects of Ecclesall Wood’s rich history. One area we have been focussing on is that of the enigmatic ‘Q-pits’ – Q-shaped earthworks that can be seen dotted throughout the woods. These were used from the 16th to 18th century to create whitecoal, a form super-dried wood used as a fuel for lead smelting.
We asked the children to develop characters associated with the Q-pits. These might be people from past, such as wood colliers and their wives, gamekeepers and outlaws, or they might be people from the present: archaeologists and their apprentices. I found it quite challenging to draw the line between ensuring the characters remained grounded in facts and letting the children’s abundant, often slightly zany, creativity shine through. Indeed, it was particularly interesting and amusing to see how the children’s archaeologists referenced myself!
This weekend these activities came together at the Ecclesall Woods Spring Open Day. Whilst the students built their own experimental Q-pit, the children performed in character, describing the process of making whitecoal and, hopefully, giving the audience an insight into woodland industry in the 18th century. Given the short time the children had to practice the roles, I think the result was superb and hugely entertaining.
Overall, I have been really impressed by the way the children have learnt about the past, and then used that new knowledge to spark their imaginations. It’s been really exciting collaboration to be involved in, and I hope to continue working on similar projects in the future.