Shakespeare has a funny way of getting in to everything! You probably know more Shakespeare facts than you realised if you’ve seen any theatre in the West End – it’s no secret that The Lion King‘s based on Shakespeare; thanks to & Juliet – one of the many musicals based on Shakespeare plays – we all now know that his wife was called Anne Hathaway; and if you’ve ever walked around London you’ve probably passed his old haunts – of course he could often be found on the Southbank at the Globe but did you know he used to live right by the Barbican!
If any of these Shakespeare facts are new to you, maybe a trip to Shakespeare’s Globe is in order! An accurate reconstruction of the Elizabethan Theatre that Shakespeare wrote his plays for, the site now houses two theatres as well as a vast education and learning centre where you can find out more about the Bard and theatre in his times.
We spoke to Lucy Cuthbertson, Co-Director of Education at Shakespeare’s Globe, all about what the Globe does for kids and why Shakespeare is actually perfect for young people!
What your job is at the globe and what does it entail?
The Globe’s Education Department is quite large! We encompass learning, which is everything to do with schools and teachers and students, family work and holiday work – events we plan for families in half terms and Easter and summer.
We also have higher ed courses in there – we run an MA and have collaboration course with Kings College London, and we have a large research department and library and archives so it’s a quite a lot! It might be the largest education department within a theatre in Europe; I think I once heard that suggested!
I was a teacher for about 20 years and I’ve I also worked in theatre and was a director, so I span a few areas.
What sort of things have you got going on this summer?
One of the big things we’ve got which is new is that we’ve actually put on a full-scale family show, which is called Midsummer Mechanicals. That’s been running since the beginning of the summer holidays, once or twice a day, Wednesday to Sunday as a full scale production.
It’s a bit like A Midsummer Night’s Dream meets The Play That Goes Wrong meets Pantomime and it’s really appealing to a whole range, right down to very young children – we’ve had a lot of babies as well – but the adults are loving it too, because there’s a lot of Shakespeare in there and a lot of references.
We’ve got a bunch of summer schools that we run on site for young actors from age 11 up to 19. They’re one-week courses or two-week courses and they get an opportunity to see the shows and to perform an act at the end in a showcase on one of the stages, so that’s quite exciting.
We’ve had a bunch of family workshops on A Midsummer Night’s Dream so that families or young children who don’t maybe know the play that well can come to a workshop and go into the a bit more informed in terms of the play itself.
It’s a whole family workshop so the parents are there as well and they’re all acting in little scenes together with their children, which is quite cool. I really love those, actually, you often see families doing things together in a way that they’ve probably never had an opportunity to, and it’s really cool. Especially when you give the children high status parts compared to the parents!
We’ve got some storytelling’s towards the end of the month. They are essentially a one person show where they do a retelling of a play, but they’re very interactive. They’re an hour long and the children very much are involved in responding to the things that come up; helping the storyteller tell it.
We had two days of having the BBC and Cbeebies in filming. They do these very short abridged versions of Shakespeare for very young children and managed to do it! It is interesting!
What are the challenges of introducing kids to Shakespeare in the ways that you’ve discussed?
I think when you work with children that age weirdly they’re aren’t that many challenges!
They don’t come with any preconceptions, so they just take it at face value and they take the story at face value. I think the way children think is very different, they’re less confined by logic and often Shakespeare’s plays – when you lay out the plot of them you think oh, that’s ridiculous, but somehow kids are quite good at following them and accepting the stories and the silly twists that they take.
There’re so many themes in the plays that are contemporary and modern and children are very good at latching onto those and finding a way into the story.
Why do you think it’s important to introduce kids to Shakespeare?
Just because we work with Shakespeare, we don’t just accept the premise that Shakespeare is just some sort of statute that’s never going to be knocked down. I think it’s the opposite: it’s really important to question why we get children to do anything on the curriculum.
But I think that the play have endured for a reason because they just seem to have this adaptability to the times as there’s enough things in them which we can relate to.
They lend themselves to whatever you want to do with them. There is no reason really, when it’s all done well why children can’t enjoy them, why young people can’t enjoy them and find them challenging!
If they’ve had the experience early on where it’s been demystified, and it’s been no big deal there then hopefully you take away any of that fear around it.
What do you think makes the Globe so special for everyone but specifically for kids as well?
Well because the Globe is a reconstruction of original game conditions, that is quite exciting because there’s something I suppose special about seeing a show in in a shared light, and everything that goes with that.
Most people’s experience – if they’ve experienced theatre at all – is the classic case where the lights go down, you sit in the dark and you watch what’s on the stage. But I think seeing something in shared light in that communal way is really special, really exciting.
I look after this big production called Playing Shakespeare, which happens every year in late spring and we get lots of young people from London schools who haven’t been to theatre very much and have probably never seen Shakespeare live.
And it’s more than just seeing a play, it’s a complete experience. It’s about how shared it is and what other people are doing in the space and how you’re distracted by them and what that person over there is doing – it’s not just about what’s on stage.
When we watch them seeing things in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, the space is beautiful so they come in and they really enjoy the space and they enjoy how the stage is. You’re so close to the audience. I think as an adult when you go and see shows in there, it can be a little bit claustrophobic for some people and that’s how they were in those days – they were really quite crammed in!
But for children, it’s great, they’re so close to the action and they’re practically on the stage and that, works really well. So neither space is a sort of experience they would have had in any other venue.