One of the most exciting parts of the Shakespeare Institute’s Shakespeare and Creativity MA is getting the opportunity to work with practitioners from the RSC. Most recently we had a writing workshop with Deputy Literary Manager Becky Latham. Throughout the day Becky led us on a series of writing and devising exercises ranging from sensory explorations of pivotal Shakespeare scenes to combining our writing as a group.
Becky began the workshop by asking all of us to pick a character we know well. Having recently seen the Globe’s production of Hamlet I chose Laertes. With this character we started to consider who they are, the lies they tell themselves, and what thoughts keep them up at night. We each came up with statements concerning a theme decided by the group. Our theme was “epicness of emotion” and for each statement we stood on either side of the room along a scale of strongly agree to strongly disagree as our characters.
One of the most interesting outcomes of this exercise was that another student also chose Laertes. Our interpretations of the same character were distinct enough that we often stood on different ends of the agree/disagree scale for certain statements. Even the statement I wrote from the point of view of Laertes, “I have never repressed a single emotion in my entire life” put us on opposite sides of the room.
We also spent time discussing provocations from Ayanna Thompson and Emma Smith in the Why Shakespeare Now? workshops:
What creative opportunities does Shakespeare present to you as an artist? What must we be honest about if we are intent on a fresh approach to Shakespeare?
These questions are important for any institution or individual engaging with Shakespeare today. As my cohort prepares to create our own Shakespeare-inspired devised performance, which will be performed at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre on 10 June, we need to find our own answers. Who are we and what even is a fresh approach to Shakespeare? We have a responsibility to interrogate our choices surrounding not just why we are working with Shakespeare, but also our motives and intentions.
Writing Shakespeare for younger audiences
Our last exercise placed us in the shoes of the RSC’s literary department as they plan their First Encounters production of Twelfth Night, an educational introduction to Shakespeare for 7-13 year olds. Becky shared details about the program with us as well as information gathered from the youth advisory board about what young people are interested in about Twelfth Night.
While being mindful that the RSC wants to create an accurate first encounter with Shakespeare, we discussed how we could incorporate the youth advisory board’s interests in gender, laughing at high status characters, and specific characters into their production. This exercise helped us consider what we would need to think about if we decided to pursue a younger student audience for our devised production. No matter who our intended audience is, similar research and reflection is a necessary practice.
What I took from the workshop
Spending the day with Becky gave me a better understanding of the responsibilities of a literary manager as well as lots of ideas to take into our group devising work. As one of the writers for our devised ensemble project I plan to use many of the writing exercises Becky showed us. The writing workshop challenged us to take ownership of Shakespeare’s characters as artists ourselves in an intentional, thoughtful manner and I look forward to working with the RSC more in the future.