Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Charlotte Howes and James Desmond, students from Derby University, joined us last week as we hosted the first-ever public Play On! workshop in the UK. Here are their thoughts. 


By Charlotte Howes 

On 12 November of this year, I had the privilege of being invited by 1623 theatre company - via the University of Derby - to the first Play On! workshop in the UK that explored a new modern translation of Shakespeare. The workshop took place at QUAD arts centre.

Play On! is headed by Lue Morgan Douthit who aims to bring the art of Shakespeare to contemporary audiences through “translating” the language of Shakespeare.

play-on-workshopWhile there has been some backlash from people stating that Shakespeare doesn’t need to be modernised, the aim of the company is not to change anything drastically. In other words, not like the Broadway plays or theatre productions wherein Shakespeare takes place in the 21st century and the Romeos become Rons and the Juliets become Jewels.

Play On’s translations of Shakespeare are still set firmly in the 16th and 17th centuries. So the overall tone of the play doesn’t change in the slightest - it just becomes easier to understand and a few jokes can even make their way over to the audience!

From personal experience in the workshop, I can say that this works extremely well. A talented group of actors were brought in to do the reading of a few scenes from Measure for Measure - translated by Aditi Brennan Kapil - and thanks to their incredibly skilled performances we as the audience gave many laughs and even shocked gasps at points.

As was pointed out by Lue, when these plays were originally produced the language wouldn’t have been ‘artsy fartsy’, these were plays for the working class and were spoken in their “language,” so to speak.

So why not carry over this same concept that Shakespeare was all about and use language everybody can understand to show plays of hilarity, tragedy and romance?

To keep the spirit of theatre alive, would it not be a benefit to not be afraid to go and see Shakespeare as you may not understand it and feel out of place among the “literary greats” who are there watching alongside you? I myself am guilty of feeling this in the past.

I say no. Shakespeare was made for everybody to enjoy and for everybody it should stay! Children should no longer groan in school when the teacher announces that the class will be on Shakespeare. Instead they should cheer that they get to watch a comedy, or a daring tale of adventure and love. Play On! could help with this.

All in all, the workshop was a perfect way to spend an afternoon and once the plays are officially running I will be first in line for a ticket!

Thanks to Lue, the actors, the participants, 1623 and QUAD. 



By James Desmond

An interactive workshop took place at QUAD arts centre in Derby on the 12th November 2019. This was hosted by Ben Spiller from 1623 Shakespeare and American director Lue Douthit. The session focused on exploring Shakespeare's play Measure For Measure.

The session started off with a good introduction, demonstrating that the complexity of Shakespeare's language can be approached in much simpler way. I was provided with handouts and I met a few playwrights, actors in the theatre sector and a few students. As a group, we discussed what the play is about and explored key themes, such as political undertones found in the play itself.

play-on-measure-extractOne aspect of the session that I enjoyed was hearing different viewpoints on the same play. Actors read the extracts in a theatrical way which made it more enjoyable. This made the language easier to interpret, as it was spoken in an engaging way. I gathered from the session that by interacting with others, this allowed me to view the play in different ways.

As an English student, I learned that a close reading of Shakespeare helps me to understand it better when working with others. The session helped me to consider various words used in the play and relate this to the overall meaning of the extracts. In the session, I noted down my ideas. For example, Measure for Measure covers the theme of death, attitudes towards women and political undertones.

Another aspect that I enjoyed was the discussion about the differences between modern and Elizabethan theatre. Elizabethan theatre lacked technology, special effects and had more of a traditonal atmosphere. A few people argued that modern theatre does not have the same elements as Elizabethan theatre. Modern theatre has to adapt due to technology and changing audiences to represent Shakespeare in new creative ways.

I took away a lot from the session. For instance, by deconstructing the text and using close reading with others can make Shakespeare easier to understand. The interactive workshop allowed me to build on my own interpretations which helped me in the group discussion. Overall, I learned that by reading Shakespeare slowly, this allowed me to form my own ideas and discuss it with others.


Play On! Shakespeare commissioned more than 30 playwrights in 2016-18 to translate all of Shakespeare's plays into modern English.

More than 50% of the playwrights are women, more than half are people of colour.

The company staged rehearsed readings of all the plays with full casts at Classic Stage Company in New York this summer, when the casting reflected the same demographic as the playwrights.

Find out more about Play On! Shakespeare by visiting the website.



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