The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) is encouraging teachers and students to take a more practical approach to Shakespeare in schools with a new manifesto called Stand Up For Shakespeare.
Over the past year the RSC has consulted with teachers, students, policy makers and theatre companies across the UK to explore what makes Shakespeare exciting and accessible for young people. The new manifesto, developed out of this process, calls for schools to make Shakespeare’s texts come alive in the classroom in three ways: ‘Do it on your feet’ says plays should be explored actively, as actors do, rather than simply studied as written texts; ‘See it live’ calls for schools to recognise the importance of young people seeing Shakespeare plays performed live, whether professional productions or school performances; ‘Start it earlier’ asks that children first study Shakespeare in primary schools, in order to dispel the negative opinions often already held by students encountering it for the first time in secondary school.
Michael Boyd, Artistic Director of the RSC, commented: “Shakespeare wrote plays, and young children are geniuses at playing. Ask them to comment on a great work of literature and they will shrink away. Give a child the part of Bottom, Tybalt, Lady Macbeth or Viola, and watch them unlock their imagination, self-esteem, and a treasure trove of insight into what it’s like to be alive that will feed them for a lifetime. Shakespeare remains the world’s favourite artist because his living dilemmas of love, mortality, power and citizenship remain unresolved, vivid and urgent today.”
Further details of the RSC’s manifesto are available at www.rsc.org.uk/standupforshakespeare, which also includes over 200 messages of support from actors, directors, teachers, students and the RSC’s President, the Prince of Wales. You can add your support to the campaign by signing the manifesto.
Among those supporting the campaign is Tamsin Greig, last year’s Best Actress Laurence Olivier Award winner for her performance as Beatrice in the RSC’s production of Much Ado About Nothing. She said: “The word ‘Shakespeare’ is a bell that summons adults, sometimes to heaven, but more likely to hell. Childhood experiences of studying Shakespeare so often leave adults with a stomach-deep aversion to the boredom and incomprehension they associate with the ‘S’ word. But Shakespeare was not a writer, he was a playwright. Give children the chance to play with words and ideas and stories, and boredom has no place. I wholeheartedly support the RSC’s manifesto to bring Shakespeare’s words and ideas and stories to younger and younger children, in the hope of breaking the stranglehold of word-based study and sharing with them the freedom of 3D play.”
The RSC intends to lead the way in fulfilling the three criteria of its manifesto with its continuing programme of education for teachers and students, special ticket offers for school groups and young people, touring productions and partnerships with schools across the country.