Jayne Williams, Participation Director at New Perspectives was interviewed by Sue Dymoke, Associate Professor of Education, Nottingham Trent University, June 2020
Start date: Spring 2020 - ongoing
Tell us about your project?
New Perspectives is a leading touring theatre company based in the East Midlands, making new work for a wide range of audiences and spaces. Our Shhh…akespeare project is all about engaging young people in Yrs 5, 6 and 7 in those special ‘shhh moments’ in Shakespeare’s plays, intimate and exciting moments when an audience is let in on what a particular character is thinking. They might be plotting a murder and we, the audience, know about this but the rest of the characters in the world of the play don’t.
The action starts in the children’s own classroom where children learn the Witches’ chant
double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
The class chant as they move from their classroom into a triangular space in their hall, one opening of which is occupied by a mysterious character dressed in black. Straight away the children are involved. The actor then delivers a fifteen minute version of Macbeth, edited by Gary Lagden. Hayley Doherty plays all of the characters and immediately children experience something new because they see one actor nimbly switching from one character to another in a stylised way. They grasp that they are involved in a live performance and can enjoy its language in an accessible form. We use playing cards to explore power structures in a play. By the end of Macbeth, the four king cards are ripped up. This sophisticated depiction works well rather than using fake blood and knives which can be quite harrowing for some young people or seem a bit comedic. After the play, young people always surprise us, even in Year 5, with how much of the story they have taken on board. They explore where Macbeth fits into the timeline of Shakespeare’s work and investigate shhh moments in Shakespeare’s own life, mysteries which young minds really latch on to. Each young person performs a Shakespeare quotation found on one of the playing cards. They take their card home so a little bit of the conversation about Shakespeare can continue once the workshop is over.
What excites you most about this project?
When we’re in schools we can see children are engrossed by it. We haven’t got any tricks or anything. It just one person in front of them but the power of that excites us. With Lockdown, it has been a tricky challenge to transfer that powerful experience into the dimension of the screen but one that excites us.
How has the project been affected by Covid-19 and the lockdown?
We were in the first week of a four-week tour when lockdown was announced. We had already managed two very successful performative workshops in Nottinghamshire primary schools but we asked ourselves how we could make the workshop happen for all the children who would now miss out. We decided that the multi-talented Hayley would refilm the fifteen minute Shakespeare in her tiny flat, using her dismantled bed and plenty of duvets as her recording studio. It was filmed over two weeks using new 4K software and edited by Ian Dearman. We had to make sure she didn’t disturb the neighbours with her screaming and avoided filming when noisy chewing gum removal machines took to the streets below.
Through Nottingham ChalleNGe we learned that teachers were desperate for something fun to do with young learners. I filmed a series of six ideas for how to work with aspects of the play. These can be used as a full day of activities or over a number of days and include creating a play through emojis and acting out all the parts in the script. The resources and new film were launched on 23rd April, Shakespeare’s birthday and are all available free here. We had a brilliant response from a father in Coalville who emailed a video of his 10 year old son’s first ever experience of Shakespeare. He acted out the entire script with different costumes, accents, locations, scene descriptions and credits for all the parts he played. He said it was ‘a challenge but well worth doing’. We are editing this, with the family’s permission, and will be sharing it on line.
Have you tried new ways of collaborating on this project?
The online performative workshop has led us to new ways of working together in isolation.
What have you learnt so far?
The resources were originally going to be available for 2 weeks but it takes time to build momentum. Parents and teachers can’t automatically trust what’s on line. They need reassurance about what will work and, now there so much interest, we have extended availability over the summer. We usually tour around the East Midlands but, with the online elements, maybe we can reach other schools further afield. We would always want some live access to the actor. It has really opened up new thinking for us in terms of how we can reach new and different young people.
Photography is by Ian Dearman and Props are designed and created by Clare Taylor.
CONTACT: Jayne Williams, firstname.lastname@example.org
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