Last week we had the pleasure of taking part in Aberdeen City Council’s Arts Across Learning (AAL) Festival. The festival encourages venues like us to work with artists (drama, visual art, music and more) to create workshops for Aberdeen schools. This is a fantastic opportunity for us to learn from a specialist and develop our skills for future workshops. This year we worked with drama practitioner Fi Milligan Rennie to bring letters from our archive to life. The letters are from two missionaries, Robert and Maggie Laws, living in Nyasaland (now Malawi) in the late 19th century. After losing several children in Africa they decided to send their sole surviving child, Amy, to live in Scotland for safety. The letters we have are the ones they wrote to her as she grew up far away from them with an aunt in Edinburgh.
We’ve been exploring these letters a lot recently, using them in a project with St Peter’s Primary School, and Fi brought some new ideas for interpreting them through drama. The aim of the workshop was to explore the separation of the Laws family and how the only way they could communicate with each other across continents was by writing letters. What would it have been like to be separated from your parents, not knowing how many years would pass before you could see them again? What would you feel if you couldn’t tell them anything face to face and you knew that even the letters you wrote would take a couple of months to reach them? How would it feel not to be able to hug them when things got bad?
A letter from Robert Laws shows how difficult it was for the parents, as well as Amy:
“Kondowi, January 12th 1895
My dear Amy,
Do you know I would very much like to take you on my knee this after-noon, and give you a kiss, and have a long talk with you. Both mother and I miss the sight of you very much, but we know that you are cared for by kind loving Aunt Mary and Grandma.”
We tried various methods of interpreting the letters with the four schools who visited us. These methods included:
- Physically separating the class into two sections, Africa and Edinburgh
- Immersive drama to become the characters in the letters
- Building frozen pictures of Amy and her parents’ lives
- Following the journey of a letter from Africa to Edinburgh through drama
- Exploring the thoughts and feelings of Amy and her parents as they wrote and received letters.
- Looking at and listening to the letters themselves
Four classes came to take part in our “My Dear Amy” workshop:
- Kingswells Primary P6/7
- Kingswells Primary P7
- Cornhill Primary P4/5
- St Joseph’s RC School P5
All the classes really entered into the spirit of the workshop and created some amazing pieces of drama.
At the end of their workshop each class wrote letters. The first two classes adopted characters from Africa and Edinburgh and wrote their letters as them. The second day’s classes wrote their letters from Amy to her parents. These letters were then put in envelopes and each pupil will receive a letter from one of their classmates in the post. Here are some examples of the children’s letters. You can see how well they got into character!
1895, Mayfield, Edinburgh
Dear my lovely father! thank you for all your kindness and help. I miss you so very much I wish I was their with you To sit on your Lap and give you a hug and a kiss I wish you could come to Edinburgh to see me but you can’t it’s good when you send me letters I like that but most of all I love you so much I wish we could go to a place and spend time Together we always spent time to gether in malone [Malawi]. And you always so me thats what I liked about malone but know I am in Edinburgh I can’t see you I see you in my dreams but thats all we are spending time in all the dreams I have I wish you could be here with me PS frome your lovely Daghter Amy [letter from Amy Laws to her father Robert]
Dearest Amy, I have missed you. I am so glad that I finally have time to write to you. How are you? With Mary, well that can be an adventure. I hope you were ok at going to school around where Mary lives. I really miss you. My hand has started to shack [handwriting shaky at this point] as I am not sure of when next I will return. I hope your Aunty mary treats you like the princess you are. You are going to be okay with your Aunty and treat her nicely. I have learnt a lot, as well as teach things, here that I hope to teach you. I miss you lots. Love from Your mummy Margret. Xox [letter from Maggie Laws to her daughter Amy]
We are at our final steps of recovery and I on the other hand am not. I am writing to say Im at my final days as I was bitten by leopard and am now infected. Now don’t worry as my fading soul will go to peace. In your final days please remember me as the man who raised you you furthermore cherish my soul. If you wish to learn more about me ask Narootie a fellow tribesman. Sinsearly, Your brother [letter from a tribesman at the mission station in Nyasaland]
Dear Family, I have prayed for your health and safety every morning and evening! We have got into tragic trouble as a leopard has made some violent attacks – however with the power of the Lord we were able to save 1 man’s life! We are thankfull to those who have came to our Sunday School nevertheless I still miss you dearly! But, I am safe in Gods arms and will always be in his heart, with you. Love you lots, Sister Margey [letter from a missionary in Nyasaland to her family in Scotland]
We are going to develop the workshop further for our workshops for the University’s May Festival. If you are interested in bringing your class to work with the Amy Laws letters, keep a look out for the May Festival brochure which will be available soon.
Posted by: Lynsey and Sarah