“Even after 400 years, Shakespeare’s words and language still empowers us today. His plays and sonnets explore the different aspects of what it is to be human, to be loved and love or tried and tested. These are significant elements of life that are relevant today more than ever as we move into 2021 with hope that we will all be connected and feel more human once again.
The recent activity of Shakespeare Nation, even in lockdown, has shown that as adults we can still embrace and advocate his famous words, meaning his work doesn’t stay locked up in dusty books of a school classroom – we’ve enjoyed bringing them to life to share in the here and now.” Project Leader & Theatre Practitioner/Writer Joseph Ballard
Embracing our theatre of sanctuary through Shakespeare
Norwich Theatre is one of six theatres working with the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) on a 4-year project exploring ways to engage adults in theatre for the first time. Through Shakespeare Nation, we are reaching out to communities around the county who would not normally think theatre and Shakespeare are for them, creating opportunities for people to experience the thrill of Shakespeare in their own communities and build a life-long relationship with theatre.
The project started in 2019 with A Tale of Many Cities, our own response to the RSC’s Romeo and Juliet and a reflection of our fine city and collaboration with local refugees, students and academics and vulnerable young adults. Launched on Norwich Market, we then held two weeks of events, exhibitions, performances, workshops and a co-production across our three venues.
Year Two of Shakespeare Nation began during the pandemic, in September 2020. During this time we have all experienced loss, grief and isolation on many levels. We wanted to connect with adults in a positive and meaningful way to explore hope and the future, and so Brave New World was created.
The first part of Brave New World was led by Miche Montague, who worked closely with UEA students, Alumni, staff and members of New Routes. After just one workshop in person, the country entered another lockdown and students from UEA were experiencing lockdown on campus. Excited to experience something new, the group took part in weekly online workshops, initiated frank discussions, shared individual journeys, and most importantly, supported each other. Experiencing this new digital world together, the group created the soundscape An Isle Full of Noises and the film To Be Or Not To Be, both capturing a clear moment in time. A time of isolation, confusion, distortion, uncertainty and hope.
The second part of Brave New World began in January 2021 with a call to arms to bring Shakespeare to people’s doorsteps. We connected with individuals who hadn’t explored Shakespeare since school, who had never performed or written their own work. We also re-connected with familiar faces from our community programmes.
Led by Joseph Ballard, Doorstep Shakespeare engaged adults in online workshops, sonnet writing and readings during the winter. This culminated with a short film, capturing participants performing Shakespeare’s sonnets on their doorstep once the lockdown eased. Some of the participants decided to take part in our extended challenge – to write their own sonnet! Click here to read some of the sonnets.
Year Two of Norwich’s Shakespeare Nation has felt so very different. But we haven’t stood still, we pushed the boundaries of our own creativity, connected with people who have never taken part in theatre, brought people together to experience theatre (albeit digitally) and captured such a poignant time in our history. This beautiful, diverse community embraced our theatre of sanctuary all through Shakespeare.