British theatre critic and journalist, Mark Lawson, has recently started an occasional column in The Guardian newspaper called Theatre Studies which puts theatre’s hidden stories in the spotlight. A bit quirky in its content, but readable for that reason. Yesterday’s column was devoted to the history of the theatre revolve.
Since I became an international educator 16 years ago, I have always had questions about teaching Shakespeare, in English, to students for whom English is a second, third or even fourth language. It’s a varied, wide and noisy debate and one that I’m not going to have here today – perhaps another time.
As I was driving to work today, I heard a report about the arrest of a man after protesting at a performance of The Merchant of Venice at the Globe Theatre in London, UK. It got me thinking. The performance was by Habima, the Israeli national theatre company and it was in their native language, Hebrew. The protest was political, and if you want to know more you can check that out here http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2012/may/28/man-held-globe-threatre-protest
However, the point of my musing today is not about theatre and politics (again, for another time) but about the idea of Shakespeare being performed in languages other than English. As part of the World Shakespeare Festival and connected to the London Olympics, the revolutionary Globe Theatre is staging all 37 of the Bard’s plays in 37 different languages with theatre companies gathering for the event from right across the planet – The Taming of the Shrew in Urdu, Coriolanus in Japanese (above), The Merry Wives of Windsor in Swahili, Richard III in Mandarin and so on. The list is vast and quite incredible. What intrigues me more, is of course that all of these productions reflect the places, cultures, and societies that they were created in – given context by these places and the languages.
I am often told that Shakespeare’s plays are universal and they may be just that. But unless they are re-imagined and/or re-contextualized for their intended audience what can they really say to the people watching? I applaud and celebrate The Globe Theatre for what it is doing with this festival.
Check out their website for yourself, but especially the Education page where there are some fantastic audio interviews (in a variety of languages, with translations) with the artists behind the project. This is what Shakespeare should be about and to me, gives it real value, making it contemporary and relevent to a 21st Century, global audience. Globe to Globe Festival
And if you really want to know what I am on about have a look at this A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM. It is performed in Korean by the Yohangza Theatre Company at the Globe to Globe Festival. I saw this performance in Hong Kong a few years ago and it was fabulous. Drawing on Korean theatre traditions it truly transported me to a different world and a different culture. Enjoy!
The Strand is the home of arts on the BBC World Service. The Strand covers the most exciting and interesting music, books, films, architecture, dance, theatre and cultural events and big name interviews from all corners of the globe.
It’s on once a week and in various versions. They don’t always talk performance, but it is worth a listen, especially for nuggets about world theatre. You can checkout what they are covering every week by clicking on the image below.
You can get the download/podcast directly from the BBC at http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/globalarts
Or through iTunes at http://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/the-strand-a-world-of-arts/id263570955
About four years ago, me and my friend Sara were at the Melbourne International Arts Festival with a group of students. As always when we do these theatre trips, you try and cram in as many shows as possible. You pick your key shows and then build the rest of the performances around those. That’s how we found ourselves watching That Night Follows Day by Tim Etchells. Since that day the play has been a permanent fixture in our classrooms and on our stage. It was funny and poignant and certainly left the adult audience rather stunned. That Night Follows Day explores the dynamics between grownups and kids, and was written for adult audiences—but it’s designed to be performed by children. You might say that it uses a group of young people as a giant mouthpiece that allows older people to reflect on their own behaviour and impact.
You feed us. You choose clothes for us. You lay down the law. You sing to us. You watch us sleep. You make us promises and sometimes hope we will not remember them. You tell us stories you hope will frighten us, but not too much. You try to tell us about the world. You explain to us the meaning of war. You whisper when you think we can’t hear. You explain to us that night follows day.
The video clip below is in Flemish, the language of the original production. In fact the script for the play comes in 4 languages – Dutch, English, German and French. It doesn’t matter that the video isn’t in English, the power of the piece still shines through.
This blogger really gives a flavour of the peice: Letter from Belgium
Tim Etchells is an incredible and very talented contemporary theatre practitioner and is perhaps best known for his work with his company, Forced Entertainment. He writes an amazing blog which is always worth dipping in and out of:
Also if you want to know more about Forced Entertainment’s work you can visit their site here which has lots of video of their work
That Night Follows Day is in fact a quietly revolutionary work which, with immaculate artfulness, strips theatre back to the barest essentials. Performance is the simplest utterance, and the text – a beautifully modulated series of variations on a theme – is a sequence of statements.
All of my senior students have been Brooked at some point….and quite rightly so. When IB Theatre students ‘do’ their TPPP, the man never fails to make an appearance. This week, his latest play, based on a township short story by the South African dissident Can Themba, opens in London. In the video link below the legendary director discusses the links between the apartheid era and today’s political protests, looks back on a 70-year career – and explains why finding simplicity on stage is more complicated than you’d think.
Brook gave the interview to The Guardian newspaper, and in the same edition, their theatre blogger, Peter Lam talks about the influence Brook had on him:
Peter Brook’s writings made me want to do drama – and his restless exploration of the form, and the world, makes him one of its greatest living exponents
And finally, how could I blog about the great man without quoting his most famous utterance
I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across an empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged
I was verifying some work by my BTEC students this week about their excellent performance of Sarah Kane’s 4:48 Psychosis and it reminded of this interview she gave in 1998. Well worth a listen
Patsy Rodenburg is a voice and acting coach who has worked with some of the world’s leading actors. She says the world needs actors more than ever. In these two talks, amongst other things, she tells the story of a profound encounter that reveals the deeper role theatre can play in people’s lives. She is an incredibly compelling speaker and what she says is really worth a listen by all theatre and performance students.
We do on stage things that are supposed to happen off. Which is a kind of integrity, if you look on every exit as being an entrance somewhere else
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
I was chatting with my first year IB theatre students, Jeff, Tim and Clarissa, this week. I wanted to know what their university plans were. Not one of them knew – fair enough – but made me smile with the comment that ‘well we know it won’t be medicine because we are here talking to you’. So when my colleague John (thanks mate) posted this it struck me as being very prescient. It is 20 minutes long, but worth every minute and should inspire any student of the arts to take a leap of faith
Still not sure…..? You need to be!
A link to the dramaturg’s UK network