Shakespeare: A worldwide classroom

Worlds Together - Sept 2012

February 26, 2013

It's reunion time as the teachers, students and artists Tracy has been working with over the past year arrive in London for the Worlds Together conference from 6 - 8 September 2012, the culminating event of our World Shakespeare Festival education project, Shakespeare: A Worldwide Classroom (SWC).

Next to a coffee shop at Heathrow Terminal 1, I was just settling down to eat my breakfast muffin when I saw the unmistakable profile of Mr Marvellous, English teacher from South Africa. I leapt up and ran over to hug him - and then Lali, Tumy and Puseto, artists from Johannesburg, followed by a very weary looking Lucky, Marvellous' star student, dragging a suitcase she could easily have slept in.

It was wonderful to see them again and I was delighted they hadn't suffered all the delays at passport control we'd been warned about. More hugging came as we were soon joined by Marissa and Tray, teacher and student from Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, my colleagues, Lizzie and Rob were busy meeting the students and teachers from Kolkata, Hong Kong and Oman in another terminal, while Jenny was meeting the Czech team who'd flown into Stansted.

By early evening we'd gathered everyone together, along with the UK teachers and students, in one of the little kitchens at our student accommodation in Goldsmiths College.

It was great to see the excitement of friendships rekindled and the new faces from the Czech Republic and Oman being welcomed into the warmth of team SWC.

Over the next three days, the teachers and artists attended Worlds Together, our international education conference with Tate at Tate Modern; and presented at the Shakespeare Symposium about their work over the past year of the project.

The students meanwhile spent two days as an International Youth Ensemble working with professional director, Aileen, and movement director, Lucy, to create a King Lear to perform on the last morning of the conference.

Worlds Together  was about exploring the value of arts education for young people across the world. For our Shakespeare strand, it was the culmination of nearly two years of investigating where, how and why the world teaches Shakespeare, which had led to my travels to seven countries.

Many of the friends I had made along the way were able to come to the conference and they, along with other delegates, commented on how inspirational and valuable it was to meet and talk with Shakespeare artists and educators from different countries and cultures, all with the same passion.

The questions for the conference echoed the questions I'd been exploring throughout my visits:
What is the value of Shakespeare for young people today, particularly the value of his language?
What do other nations find in Shakespeare's words and narratives that find parallels in their own language and culture?
And what can we learn about each other through exploring those parallels?

On the first day, delegates explored the language in workshops led by Voice and Movement specialists from the RSC and NT, followed by a panel discussion with our very own doyenne of Shakespeare's words, Cicely Berry, along with Mark Ravenhill, Peggy O'Brien and Aimara Resende.

On the second day, there was a menu of workshops with leading artists and practitioners and in the afternoon came the Shakespeare Symposium where 38 artists and educators from around the world gave 20 minute presentations in a 'marketplace' environment which allowed everyone to share and discuss what they heard.

It was amazing to hear snippets of conversations about Shakespeare in the Australian outback and rural Brazil alongside Shakespeare in Tokyo, Ohio, Malta and Spain, and tales of Shakespeare engaging so many young people from different cultural backgrounds and at all levels of ability.

The third day began with the second panel discussion, kick-started through an energy burst from our International Youth Ensemble. After just two days, through a remarkable combination of commitment, motivation, enjoyment and sheer hard work, our 19 students from seven countries with at least ten languages between them had 150 conference delegates on their feet in a standing ovation to an extraordinary and moving 15 minute version of King Lear, highlighting exactly why Shakespeare matters.

The three days of the conference had raced by and suddenly here was our final keynote speaker, Michael Morpurgo, telling us the story of the Unicorn Lady as a beautiful concluding metaphor of why art does matter in the lives of all of us, young and old.

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by Tracy Irish  |  No comments yet

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