Accessibility in Shakespeare in Performance

Sumsion, Joe (2018) Accessibility in Shakespeare in Performance. [Video] (Unpublished)

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Contextual Statement

The subject of this work is Accessibility in Shakespeare in Performance. The research engages with the problems of orthodox approaches to the performance of Shakespeare, notably for young actors to whom Shakespeare’s works are, culturally and intellectually, all of alien, intimidating, and inaccessible. Existing methodologies implicitly and explicitly assume a level of actor familiarity with the texts, and largely neglect to respond to the significant difficulties faced by performers from non-academic backgrounds in fully engaging with Shakespeare’s plays.

Using practice based research undertaken across June 2017 to March 2018 which drew from the work of Cicely Berry on voice and cadence, Terence Chapman’s work on Biomechanics, and the professional theatre-making practice of Joe Sumsion formulated whilst Artistic Director of The Dukes Playhouse in Lancaster, the research devised an original (theoretically grounded and practice based) approach to enable non-academic trainee actors to meaningfully engage with Shakespeare. An outcome being a critically well-received full production of “The Winters’ Tale” by UCLan Third Year Acting Degree students. A further, arguably more significant, outcome – and one which cements the research as interdisciplinary - is the identification and development of a pedagogic template for the strategic teaching of actors which can be applied in the performance of a variety of plays outside of the existing knowledge base/cultural milieu of the actors.

As implied, the originality of the work lies in developing a demystifying approach for actors in their understanding of how to perform Shakespeare. Through bringing together three specialist areas - namely voice, movement, and audience engagement - complex texts, ideas and concepts are made accessible and practical to actors and, ultimately, the audience.

Further importance of the work lies in that it responds to the evolving socio-cultural diversity of the UK and the associated drive within the theatre and television industries to reflect, respond, and be relevant to this changing landscape. Many of UCLan’s actors arrive with raw talent but lack the familiarity with and assuredness towards Shakespeare which others often gain through a privileged secondary school education. For the industry need to be fulfilled – confident, assured actors from all backgrounds – new techniques and approaches to performing Shakespeare need to be developed.

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