As a new term unfolds, here at FTW HQ, we are looking forward to some new challenges, new schools to work with and new mindsets to influence. As a nation we seem to be becoming more and more entrenched in our views, making us passionate, determined and, some might say, intransigent. I hold my hands up and confess I am just as guilty as the next person of not being entirely open-minded when it comes to change but I am keen to be informed and not base my decisions on hearsay and other people’s opinions. And it strikes me that this is also how Shakespeare is viewed.
How can we open up minds?
At FTW we are used to hearing people exclaim “Shakespeare? For children! How does that go down?” It’s a joy to be able to reply “Brilliantly actually, because it’s just another story to them.” Then inevitably we hear “But the language, what about the language?” And that is where the conversation stops because the willingness to hear the answer, which in turn might possibly destroy a long held opinion, is lost. Perhaps we are inspired by our name, FINDING THE WILL, or perhaps we are just fed up with being ignored, but one of the ongoing challenges of the new term is to open up the minds of teachers, parents and students alike and convince them that Shakespeare is not just about Olde English language, but issues that resonate (sometimes all too pertinently) today. But let’s deal with the language first. Yes it is “old fashioned” – it is four hundred years old! In four hundred years time the language we speak today will also be considered “difficult to understand”. Think back over the last thirty years and how language has developed. If something is ‘wicked’ it is not necessarily evil anymore; being ‘gay’ does not automatically mean you are happy and of course being ‘cool’ is no longer merely a reference to your temperature. In the twenty first century we are also at the mercy of ‘text speak’ – CUL8R etc. Imagine trying to get to grips with that in 2419?
So if we can get past the language being a bit weird, what else is there to be afraid of? The stories are all based on the same themes: love, hate, betrayal, misunderstandings, ambition, jealousy and intrigue. Kind of ‘Eastenders’ 400 years ago actually. OK, it’s a fair cop, if I’m being totally honest I only realised this once I started to work on Shakespeare plays as an actor myself. Until that point I was scared of it too. I had those same thoughts of being inadequate and not brainy enough to understand it. Luckily my mind was opened up by another actor, who told me the language was strange simply because it was not the way we speak any more, and also contained some jokes and words that were fashionable 400 years ago. “You don’t have to understand every individual word, it doesn’t matter, as long as you have the sense of what you are saying.” And, in essence, that is how I enjoy watching 21st Century TV shows like Dr Who – clueless most of the time about what is being said, but completely understand the jeopardy and highs and lows of the story. My guess is that most of the actors in Dr Who are also in the dark about what every word they are saying means. But they successfully convey the meaning and allow us to enjoy the story, the characters and the themes nonetheless. Thus our minds are opened up and we open those of others.
Where to next?
So as we start the Autumn term what do we have coming up at FINDING THE WILL. Well there are Interactive workshops on Hamlet, Macbeth and The Tempest at schools in Oxfordshire, Slough, Manchester and Yorkshire – three of which are new schools to us. Happy days! We have the great opportunity to open up the minds of more children, teachers and governors to the benefits of using drama and literacy to help increase self-esteem, confidence, creativity, concentration and listening skills. All this as well as removing the fear of learning Shakespeare.
And finally, for the adults and older students, I’m doing a last minute performance of ‘The Queen’s Speech‘ (very topical!) at Huntingdon Hall, Worcester on 27 September. It is the dessert, so to speak, after the main course of ‘The Tempest‘ which is being performed from 24-28 September. This one woman show follows Miranda, Prospero’s daughter, 35 years after the end of the original Shakespeare play. She is now Queen of Naples but things are not quite what they seem (and neither is she!).
So lots of new challenges in the coming academic year on all fronts. Let’s all hold our nerve (possibly not our breath), keep everything crossed and hope for less intransigence and more open mindedness in the months to come.
Breathe everybody – we could be in for a bumpy ride!