Shakespeare in Aotearoa
I stood, leaning against the stage, laughing at Sir Toby Belch, while Sir Andrew Aguecheek tottered down the steps alongside me and sobbed in the sympathetic embrace of my daughter.
This was the joy of being a groundling in Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and as Twelfth Night unfolded, 400 years fell away. We had stepped off Queen St, into the wonderful Pop-Up Globe, been reminded to forget the cell phones, and transported into a community of magic – the real community that comes from being in a close circle and the magic that comes from Shakespeare.
We felt part of the play: asides were addressed to particular members of the audience; we were encouraged to sing along; and when Viola told “some of you” to go with Malvolio when he left in despair through the audience, she repeatedly insisted on this to the man standing beside me (“who me?”) until he turned and followed Malvolio out of the theatre (accompanied by hearty applause).
I’m going to suggest that the Court Theatre consider this Globe design when they move back into their new site in central Christchurch.
The riverbank in Mona Vale in Christchurch – unaffected by earthquakes – was the setting for the Top Dog Theatre Company production of Hamlet and this was another Shakespearian delight of the summer. The Bard is alive and well in Aotearoa and this setting was typically kiwi, with families picnicking on the grass, the ducks in the river in front of the stage area and a cat who strolled in and out of the scenes.
TV came to the party with a stylish, contemporary black-and-white film of “Much Ado about Nothing” in which the superb cast made Shakespeare’s language seem modern. Nathan Fillion (Castle) was hilarious as Dogberry.
The other hilarious Shakespeare event of the summer for me was the Court Theatre production “Hamlet: the Video Game”. Shakespeare could not have been more contemporary, more Kiwi, more engaging and more startlingly funny. He would have loved it!
And then there is the Court Theatre production of Macbeth – to show his enduring mastery of the art of tragedy. I was grateful for the opportunity to talk with Mark Hadlow as he prepared to play the title role. His thoughts about acting, the theatre and about Shakespeare make interesting reading.
Now I find I need to get myself back to Auckland later in the year to see the Black Friars Theatre Company’s production of Macbeth set in Samoa.
The University of Otago English and Linguistics department presented a public lecture and film screening, with Professor Judith Buchanan, from the University of York speaking about a newly restored silent movie version of Hamlet, starring Asta Nielsen and produced in Germany in 1920: Hamlet without words? Hamlet as a woman?
Unitec’s 2016 Shakespeare Season is presenting in Term 2 As You Like it ( sold out) and The Winter’s Tale (probably sold out by the time you read this)
Auckland Shakespeare Company’s YASC for Teens is running workshops for schools through Term 2.
This Shakespeare fellow has a lot of work on at the moment.
There continues to be discussion about the enduring appeal of his work, and why it remains standard fare in most NZ schools despite it not being compulsory. Davis Schaumann reflects this trend by inviting teachers to discuss on EnglishOnline the strategies they are using for studying Shakespeare. NZATE has decided to continue this trend, with the Bard being the focus of the writing competition for students this year.
His appeal appears undiminished in Aotearoa in 2016, as does the discussion about why this is so. I am reminded of this explanation by John Keats in a letter to his brothers in 1818:
……it struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in Literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously – I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.
Could that still apply equally to any Man or Woman of Achievement, especially in Education?
I’m delighted to bring you Julia Malcolm’s reflections on the NZ Young Shakespeare Company’s tour of the real Globe theatre in England. There is no other writer who would inspire that sort of commitment to a trip across the world, and this alone provides an answer to those who question whether we should continue to teach these 400 year-old works. Reading Julia’s report makes you feel proud of our young students from Aotearoa and what they have achieved and experienced on this tour.
Karen Beaumont brings us a companion piece, describing her own visit to Stratford-Upon-Avon, and explores the genre of creative non-fiction as a way of recording her thoughts.
Michelle Johansson brings us the distinctly local approach to Shakespeare that comes from the Black Friars theatre company, and encouraging too, to see the on-going success of this live theatre. It is great to read her account of how both Pasifika students and actors are able to make his plays their own. How great to see the swagger Shakespeare imagined in 16th century Italian youths understood and reflected in the Pasifika youth in a South Auckland classroom.
I make no apology for reprinting, as the Postscript, the Romeo and Juliet worksheet developed by my friend and colleague, the late Peter Lees-Jeffries. I first published this in English in Aotearoa in 2003, and it is worth seeing again, especially for those newer teachers who will not have used handouts like this, and who would never have had to hand-write resources and then run them off on the Banda.1
Very few of us could create resources like Peter did, and even fewer with his remarkable artistic flair. He designed and made sumptuous sets and costumes for many Linwood High School productions, for the Repertory Theatre and for the Court Theatre in Christchurch.
I have tea-towel hanging on my wall. It looks at first glance like the Greater London Undergound Map. Then you see that the different coloured lines are labelled – not Picadilly, Waterloo etc – but Lovers, Mothers, Father’s & Daughters, Villains, Heroes, Strong & Difficult Women, Warriors and Fools . This is in fact the Greater Shakespeare Map, and all the station names are characters from Shakespeare. It is available through the Royal Shakespeare Company.
The Aotearoa link in this brilliantly clever image is that it was developed by Peter’s daughter, Dr Hester Lees-Jeffries, a Fellow of St Catherine’s College, Cambridge. Peter would be very proud.
I am pleased too to bring you Dr Karlo Mila’s keynote address that was so well received at the Wellington conference. This powerful piece examines what it feels like to be written in someone else’s story, and is about the journey to learn to write back, to fight back.
David Taylor, in the second part of his Letter from America, reflects on things he learned as a Fulbright scholar in Indiana, and in particular what perspective this has given him on our NZ education system compared to a range of other countries.
As a reminder that all our reading, writing and discussion about the pedagogy of the English curriculum is actually to support our work with teenagers, it is great to have the text of the winning Selwyn College student poems from the 2015 Auckland schools Spoken Word poetry competitions. My thanks to Ramon Narayan for his organisation of this, and congratulations to the poets, Tamrin, Levi, Dylan and Laura. Read their work, here on page 40, and then follow the youtube links: it impossible not to be impressed by their skill and moved by their passion and emotion. Here is why we do what we do.
Note that the policy of this journal is to publish student work if it has won a national or regional competition.
To further encourage your student writers, and in keeping with our theme of Shakespeare in Aotearoa, NZATE are again offering prizes for Junior and Senior student writers – details on page 53.
Mark Edgecombe reports on an obviously stimulating meeting of the Wellington regional association (WRATE), where poet John Dennison addressed the question “Who are we becoming when we learn to love poetry?”
Elizabeth Heritage provides practical advice on ways to deal with the fact that your school owns the copyright on teaching resources that you produce.
Katie Blackett introduces herself as the new NZATE rep for the Central North Island, and reflects on a couple of personal favourite texts.
My thanks to Scott Oldham for his cover design – and for getting it to me early before he broke his ankle. Hope it’s healing well, Scott.
My thanks to reviewers Jo Emeney and Laura Borrowdale. We have some impressively satisfying NZ poetry and prose being written, and students who are flexing their creative wings in exciting ways.
Can we tell ourselves that the creative imagination is alive and well in Aotearoa? Does this means that we have students with Keats’ ‘Negative Capability’ – i.e. who arecapable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after credits ?
~ Steve Langley