Productions of Shakespeare’s plays have been regularly used to comment on the political and public affairs of their performance moment – occasionally provoking heated responses. In 2017, for example, the Public Theatre’s production of Julius Caesar at Shakespeare in the Park prompted a media furore (led by Fox News), because the presentation of Caesar bore a striking resemblance to Donald Trump.
The Public Theatre, other news media, and Shakespeare scholars (such as Stephen Greenblatt) were quick to point out that Shakespeare’s play hardly condones the assassination of Caesar and that it explores, instead, the conspirators’ flawed and extreme reactions to a democracy under threat. But audience responses cannot be contained by a careful reading of the text, and, while a production may clearly announce its relevance to contemporary politics, it is difficult to pinpoint a specific application or to control public responses to it.
The Shakespeare Academy has been running at King’s for the past three years and I am very proud to have been involved from its inception. In 2017-18 we reached over 350 Widening Participation students, continuing to develop close partnerships with teachers and pupils at eight London state-funded secondary schools, from Key Stage 3 to GCSE. We’ve also run Teachers Days with the London Shakespeare Centre.
My role as administrator and workshop leader involves liaising with the schools, creating the programme for the Academy study days, supporting my colleagues in preparing individual sessions and delivering workshops myself. I am particularly passionate about inclusive access to education: my brother and I were the first in our family to obtain degrees. I also believe that engaging with Shakespeare in an interactive and creative way can help to break down perceived barriers by making the plays seem more accessible.
All ‘national curriculum’ students study Shakespeare (two plays at key stages 3 and at least one play at key stage 4). Many of the pupils we work with are from Black or Ethnic Minority backgrounds, or come from families where their parents or carers have not attended university. We give these students access to university-style learning to give them a taste of what they can expect. This makes Shakespeare’s plays a valuable common currency to reach groups who are under-represented in tertiary education. Also, plays such as Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet deal with important social and political issues – power, love, inter-generational conflict, gang warfare – that are still relevant today. The plays are useful tools for thinking about wider social concerns that are universally recognisable.
by Hailey Bachrach, PhD candidate researching gender in early modern history plays in collaboration with Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, @hbachrach.
The Globe Theatre’s opening two shows of the 2018 season (and opening shows of the tenure of new artistic director Michelle Terry) are ‘gender blind’. It’s a phrase that’s deployed freely now in discussions about casting, usually referring to women being cast in male roles, usually in plays by Shakespeare and other canonical writers. But it’s not used with much consistency: Terry and her company use it to describe their approach to casting, in which both men and women are cast in roles that do not match their own gender, but play them as written. It has also been used to describe casting women in male roles that are then played as women.
The attention paid to gender in all of these productions seems to undermine what the phrase ‘gender blind’ clearly suggests: that the actor’s gender will go unseen.
What’s less clear is whether this lack of sight is meant to apply to the artists or the audience. It’s worth noting this term has been critiqued as ableist, but as it remains a phrase used by the production and criticism industries, we should explore the implications of its suggestion that we do not simply ignore, but literally do not see gender in these productions. Continue reading ‘Gender blind’ casting, who and what goes unseen?→
By Kélina Gotman, Lecturer in Theatre and Performance Studies
It is mid-July. The vote for Brexit has happened, leaving many stunned into silence or shocked into outrage, or a combination of both. We haven’t managed to advertise extensively for the smooth & striated: form event and consider cancelling. Then reconsider. It will be strong – perhaps strongest – in small numbers, with a focused few. To do it now means to allow ourselves the luxury (is it a luxury?) of … for lack of a better term … going with the flow, thinking on our feet. Improvising. And that’s also what it is about: ways to think together in a space, on our feet, drawing; to read, transversally, to cut across a couple of texts and discover resonances and recombinations, to think laterally, perhaps.
We have decided for this event to focus on two key texts in twentieth-century art and philosophy, and to rethink not only their critical genealogies (the way Pierre Boulez’s work on pulsed and non-pulsed time, in “Time, Notation, Coding” in particular informs Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s arguably far wider-reaching and still inestimably influential chapter, “1440: The Smooth and the Striated,” from Capitalisme et schizophrénie 2: Mille Plateaux), but also the way both these complex works trouble ways of thinking linearity, teleology and what seems to be an overwhelming preference for the rhizomatic in contemporary art, including particularly in music and dance.
In 2013, the King’s Centre for Modern Literature and Culture (CMLC) was founded and launched its annual prize for Creative Responses to Modernism. Since then, postgraduate students working in modernist studies have been invited to submit their responses to modernism and its artistic explosions in whatever art form seems most appropriate. For some entrants, these have been homages, pastiches or parodies; submissions have both continued and challenged the modernist project. The centre and prize are run by Dr Lara Feigel and Professor Erica Carter.
By Sylvia Solakidi, student on the MA in Theatre and Performance
On November 30th 2015, performance projects developed by the students of Performance Lab – an MA module run in the English Department during the autumn term – were presented in the Anatomy Museum, Strand Campus. The module was taught by Dr Harriet Curtis as a workshop comprising performance-based activities, student-led practice and seminar discussions on, among other topics, aspects of intimacy in the work of influential performance artists that have attracted vivid scholarship during the last decade.