Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Martyn Williams interviews Becky Legg, who's on a year-long student placement with us, about engaging children and young people with Shakespeare's works. 


Martyn: If you speak to a lot of teenagers who are kind of forced to study Shakespeare at school, they’ll probably tell you it’s really boring, but the stories that William Shakespeare wrote hundreds of years ago are still relevant today, they’ve got the wit the intrigue, the adventure and the romance of a modern blockbuster movie. So how do you make Shakespeare sexy? And make it appeal to young people? Well it’s a task that falls to Becky Legg, she’s on a student placement with 1623 theatre company in Derby and has just finished a workshop called Shakespeare snowflakes which  saw her touring schools to talk about Shakespeare, evening Becky, how are you?

02Becky: Hello, fine thanks

Martyn: So what sort of reaction do you normally get when you go into schools, you’re there you go in front of a load of people and you go I’m gonna do a workshop on Shakespeare! How do people
normally react?

Becky: I suppose mixed reactions really, I feel like not everyone has the kind of ‘ooo no, Shakespeare!’ just kind of quite curious most of the time, what are we gonna do, what direction’s
this gonna go in?

Martyn: Cos I certainly remember when I was in school finding it abit boring, until I got into the story, like maybe the idea that I was gonna do it, I thought eurgh you know this is gonna be a slog cos the language is quite hard to get into, but once you’re in the story and you kind of tune your brain into how the writing is written and translate it into your head almost into the language we speak now you really get into it and these are fascinating stories and so how do you make Shakespeare engaging?

Becky: Well I think you touched on something quite interesting there the language which I think can be quite sort of alienating so something we like to do is erm something Ben Spiller taught me, it’s to take the script away and then I’ve seen that be delivered verbally and people just then kind of repeat that ands immediately that takes away the barrier of language and gets them straight in the story. So that’s been great, and I think generally like you say there’s just the story and the with everything’s in there, it’s just sort of like, picking out those themes and something that they can identify with and just running with that and sort of seeing where you go.

Martyn: How would one of these Shakespeare workshops actually work how would, what would happen in them?

Becky: Ok so the Shakespeare Snowflakes that was a bit different really that wasn’t actually run in schools, that was just a one-off participation programme.

Martyn: Ah, I see so the ones in schools then how do they work?

Becky: Ok so one we did last week which was one of my favourites actually, that was about the Tempest so we did some absolutely amazing storytelling where we had a lot of props, we made a storm, we made a pirate ship, we were all swimming in the ocean, absolutely incredible. And then by the end of it, everyone could just recite the whole story, it was really amazing, and everyone grasped it, they had a really good time doing it and then we talked about some different elements and some different characters And the conversation kind of went from there really, I dunno I just think making it fun, that’s kind of the starting point really.

Martyn: Yeah! And it’s about bringing those moments, like you mentioned in the Tempest with the storm and that kind of thing, it’s about bringing those moments to life.

01Becky: Yeah absolutely.

Martyn: How do they, how do the children react to that when suddenly they’re presented with not just some text in a book, but something they can act or do out loud or they can touch or create

Becky: Often really well yeah, I think often the concept of All the costumes we have and you know we had captains we had crowns, we had actions for everyone, just really excited yeah because to bring that story off the page it’s a great experience. I mean so many teachers that we’ve seen have done such a good job already of kind confusing that way of teaching so it’s not something that they’re sort of unfamiliar with but I think even just fresh faces helps as well and just eurgh when you bring out a big bag of props and you say: “right we’re gonna make a storm” you never get a bad reaction.


Martyn: I can tell that you’ve enjoyed this project it’s been something you’ve really enjoyed.

Becky: Absolutely

Martyn: And it’s part of this placement that you’ve been working on with 1623 theatre.

Becky: Yeah

Martyn: And you’ve mentioned already Ben Spiller, who’s the artistic director of 1623 theatre who we’re gonna have a little chat to in a minute.

*A song plays*

Martyn: We’re in the middle of chatting to Becky Legg, who as you’ve been hearing, is doing this placement with 1623 theatre company in Derby, and it’s all about trying to get young people, especially young people in school’s, to engage in Shakespeare. And Becky you’ve already already mentioned once, Ben Spiller, who is sitting alongside you and who is the artistic director of 1623 theatre, lovely Ben to see you.

Ben: Hello

Martyn: How does Becky’s placement then work with you, cos you were sort of collaborating on this?

Ben: Well 1623 our daily mantra is ‘See Shakespeare Differently’ so we’re always trying to find new ways of engaging audiences/workshop participants with Shakespeare’s works. We’ve got four strands to the theatre company, we make shows, we run workshops in schools and other educational settings, we do participatory activities with various different groups and we run training courses as well and Becky first came across 1623 about 3 or 4 years ago now when we were running our Starting Shakespeare training course which was for young emerging artists on developing performance skills to perform Shakespeare and other classical texts and then Becky went over to university in Southampton, and then was it between your second and third year?

03Becky: Second and third year yeah.

Ben: And in that sandwich year, Southampton university students have to have a placement with a company and Becky applied to be with us for just under a year and had an interview and had some great ideas in that interview on how to engage audiences with Shakespeare.

Martyn: I imagine Becky that’s a lot what it’s about isn’t it, bringing ideas to the table, what kind of ideas where you saying to Ben that kind of won him over that you should be the one to get the placement.

Becky: Oooh I don’t know really, I think I was just very on board with what 1623 were already doing and I sort of, in my opinion really got the importance of engaging young people and that’s sort of and that’s something I’ve had a lot of experiences with in the past and nothing to specific.

Martyn: And how important is that kind of getting them at an early age to enjoy Shakespeare?

Ben: Well I think it’s very important to provide young people with opportunities for young people to engage with Shakespeare, to have a positive first experience of his work, so that when they have to look at it at GCSE, which is the first time every student in this country has to look at Shakespeare, it’s nothing to fear it’s not something to get bored about or yawn and dread. It’s something to look forward to. I do quite a lot of work with primary schools as well as secondary schools and special needs schools as well and it’s all about trying to find exciting appropriate ways as well so we do a lot of sensory work as well, looking at speaking to the 5 senses. So the other week we were in an SEN (special educational needs school) and we were looking at Romeo and Juliet so we were looking at scenes, students creating scenes using soundscapes, bits using Juliet’s balcony with her lantern, we used light…

Becky: The potion…

Ben: The potion, the sleeping potion, Becky came up with this great idea to give one of the students some cordial -

Becky: Some very strong ginger, yeah…

Martyn: Just a bit of whisky yeah….


Martyn: Yeah I got it it I got it, so it sounds like a really fascinating project Becky that you’ve been working on and Ben with your help and guidance as well. 1623 is doing something exciting at the moment, are you working on a new show?

Ben: Yeah we are! Our new show’s called Queer Lady M and Becky’s been assistant director on that project as well, and we’ve been working with a Derby based drag artist called Shane Gabriel, who has had a life-long fascination, almost obsession with Lady Macbeth, and it’s his own story of when he first came across Lady Macbeth as an 8 year old child in his grandma’s living room eating toast and at tea time she put a VHS video on to keep him busy while she was making the tea and it was from that moment when he watched a cartoon of Lady Macbeth performing a speech about wanting to be unsexed that kind of stuck in his young mind and it’s kind of something that’s stayed there throughout his life. So the actual show the piece of work we’re making, it’s a cabaret show, where Shane plays Lady Macbeth as a queer cabaret character, and then we go backstage with Shane who then shares that led up to the creation of this new character of this drag character.

Martyn: Brilliant project, really is. Lovely to see you both, thank you to both Ben and to Becky, best of luck with the continuing project, sounds like really good stuff.

Ben and Becky: Thank you.


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