Image credit: Ellie Kurttz
“It’s designed to open up the theatre and Shakespeare to secondary school children.”
This is the bold opening declaration from Georghia Ellinas, Head of Learning at the Globe, on the theatre’s initiative to give away tickets to see the Bard’s performances for free. Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank, now in its ninth year, sees the Globe open its doors to London state school children to see a professional Shakespeare performance.
2015 will see 17,000 London school children watch Othello, and this year the scheme has been extended to Birmingham children with five schools travelling down. Since 2007, over 117,000 free tickets have been given to 11-18 year olds and outside of the performances 219 teachers have attended training and nearly 3000 students have received workshops in schools.
With the performance being 100 minutes is this a dumbing down of Shakespeare? “Absolutely not!”, retorts Ellinas, “It’s exactly the same, the characters stay the same. What may happen is the longer speeches might be edited out.”
Directed by Bill Buckhurst, Othello, is a completely professional production – a point Ellinas is keen to convey: “Ours is edited more than perhaps the three hour productions. But nothing is lost – what isn’t changed is the language.”
“It has to remain a play that these children know and understand in school. If we changed it beyond description it wouldn’t be serving any purpose at all. It has to be Shakespeare’s language.”
The refusal to patronise a young audience with an adjusted script is also reflective of the Globe’s attitude to their accessibility program. David Bellwood, the Globe’s Senior Access and Marketing Officer, spoke about his belief in using Shakespeare’s unaltered words.
“Certain people were hesitant because autism is associated with literal understanding of language and not understanding metaphor.
“We had faith in the production in the sense that people will understand the performance once it’s up and running. And even if the language is not all fully absorbed, it will make sense as a play.”
The Globe was one of the first theatres in London to do relaxed performances in 2013, and since then the accessibility programme has broadened to become less diagnosis based. The Globe is also unusual in being one of the few venues that integrate the audience, something that is enabled by the Globe’s unique space.
“For relaxed,it’s perfect actually. There’s not the inhibitors of the traditional theatre, which is dark, and everyone is in their place”, says Ellinas. “It’s a free space too, you don’t have to stay rooted to the spot.”
Bellwood stresses the absence of usual audience norms in the Globe:
“The audience also have to act because they have to pretend they’re not present. Which is really unnatural and actually quite demanding, and we don’t ask that of people.”
Having this integration at performances for schools also means that school children with disabilities are able to come on these trips, and it raises awareness amongst other students. For Bellwood, ‘It’s remarkable how small changes can make a massive impact.”
“The visibility of the captions and BSL interpretation means that everyone else in the other schools is seeing it. They’re made aware it’s a need.”
The discussion expands out to issues of accessibility in the arts and Bellwood is passionate that “as an industry we need to consider those members of society who are different, or who might be considered disruptive.” While more theatres are now putting on relaxed performances and using BSL interpreters there is still a long way to go.
Bellwood’s plea that “we should be considering the democracy of theatrical spaces” is one that is being echoed across the industry with questions being asked on how accessible the arts really is.
A Younger Theatre hopes to continue to help facilitate and develop this discussion during its Access in the Arts months which will see guest blogs and features exploring how theatre, opera and dance are opening their doors to those who could be barred from the performance world.
Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank: Othello will take place February – March 2015. For more information see their website.