BA English students were joined by RSC Director Kimberley Sykes and her colleague Tom King for a practical Shakespeare workshop as part of the commitment to enriching student experience.
The full day workshop was organised as part of our popular ‘Discovering Shakespeare’ module, which runs with support from our collaboration with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Moving away from the traditional textual analyses, our academics encourage students to delve deeper into Shakespeare and his relevance in the modern day. Thinking outside the box, the discovery module is a place where students can decolonise and diversify ideas around Shakespeare uncovering issues of social and political importance.
The session led by Kim gave students the opportunity to take a closer look at the play Henry V and ‘learn by doing’. After quick introductions, underlining personal relationships with Shakespeare, and a drama warm-up, students were prepared to tackle the text. Kim highlighted the importance of the use of words in language, from letters to tone and intentions, which contributed to the second activity where students were asked to ‘pass the click’. By clicking their fingers, they had to receive and pass on a word: ‘God’, ‘Money’, ‘Mercy’, ‘War’. The deeper connotations of words were revealed, from patience and gratitude to greed and punishment. This fed nicely into the next part where students scrutinized Henry V and Shakespeare’s use of language to convey a message or invoke a reaction. Understanding the text in a practical setting encourages students to reflect on Shakespeare’s presence on a global stage and modern-day interpretations of his work. The final activity of the day asked students to place themselves on a spectrum from ‘Mercy’ at one end of the scale and ‘Punishment’ on the other. Students argued their stance before relating it back to the characters of the play and the severity of the acts they had committed.
As well as the chance to work practically with Kim, students also took part in a more theoretical workshop with module leader Dr Toria Johnson.
Toria delivered a practical lesson focusing on Shakespeare literature recently studied, particularly The Merchant of Venice and Henry V. Students were tasked to create an interactive and informative one-hour lesson plan for different age groups, using a local Birmingham school’s lesson pro forma. Not only did this activity challenge creativity and put teaching into practice, but it also brought to light the significance of disparities and consideration to different capabilities and interests. It allowed students to reflect on their own educational journeys, sharing experiences and how much, or little, teaching has evolved.
Without titles or context, identifying a play becomes difficult. In the second part of Toria’s session, students tested their existing knowledge of Shakespearean plays to make an informed decision as to which play was being presented. Analysing how different design elements can help reflect a production’s interpretation of Shakespeare, students considered how marketing material helps set the tone and mood of a production. Students were asked to sketch out a production of their own based on one of the plays whilst keeping in mind casting, set management and key themes. Reading between the lines, students attempted to divorce deep-rooted ideologies evident in Shakespearean plays including feminism and nationalism from their final productions.
With a high percentage of our undergraduate English students going into the education sector, our commitment to employability skills have made our students the most targeted by employers in the UK – this session was another example of that commitment.
Speaking after the workshop, Kim commented “The students were all so brave and a joy to work with! I hope the sessions have made a positive difference for them.”
At the University of Birmingham students receive unparalleled access to Shakespeare experts from all sectors – education, theatre, and heritage. We are proud to announce that our collaboration with the RSC will continue for another 5 years, giving our students an exclusive experience. Overall, the workshop was well-received by the students, who enjoyed having a full day to reflect and build on their work on the module. We hope to welcome the RSC back in the future to continue to do what they do best… Bringing Shakespeare to life!
Photographs: Victoria Beddoes
Text: Yasmin Farrington