William Shakespeare is not everybody’s cup of tea. Most of us have had to study one or two of the bard’s works in high school, learning – or at least trying to learn – the intricacies of the Middle English language that he used to put his plays and sonnets together.
With five schools in Grahamstown already participating in workshops as part of the second annual Shakespeare Schools Festival, Tumi Motsisi, a Drama student at Rhodes University and the co-ordinator for the festival, put together an extra workshop featuring Shakespeare’s plays as part of Trading Live for Mandela Day. 13 Grade 11 learners from Nathaniel Nyaluza Secondary Senior School, which was not part of the festival, attended this event at the Oppidan Reading Room.
With fellow festival performers also volunteering in running the workshop, Motsisi’s main goal was to help make Shakespeare more accessible and easier to understand.
“As soon as a child realises that they can speak the Shakespearean language, almost every other performance endeavour is a little bit easier,” she said.
Motsisi also aimed to help these learners, whose school curriculum does not cover Shakespeare, gain confidence in themselves as performers, as well as students of the English language.
“A lot of the time, you’re told that you can’t do Shakespeare because English isn’t your first language, but as soon as they understand what’s being said, it’s a really magical thing. As soon as it happens, it’s like, ‘I can do anything’.”
The learners went through a series of warm-up exercises that concentrated on spontaneity, improvisation skills, trust-building and teamwork before getting into the Shakespearean section of the workshop. One such exercise saw the learners pairing up and “sculpting” each other into their own unique interpretations of Lady Macbeth and the mischievous Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Through this exercise, Motsisi emphasised that the character archetypes, the plots and the themes seen within Shakespeare’s plays can be relatable.
The last exercise had the learners reciting lines from Twelfth Night and Much Ado About Nothing. When they were gathered together, each learner was able to speak their lines with conviction and enthusiasm.
It is hoped that the school will officially become part of the Shakespeare Schools Festival next year. With the students having enjoyed the workshop and engaged with the material, this seems like a strong possibility. All the world’s a stage, and there’s always room for more performers.