Theatre in Wales

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Welsh Youngsters Shake Up Shakespeare     

From Barry to Bangor, 1500 young actors from across Wales will perform Shakespeare in some of Wales’ most prestigious theatres this October supported by funding from Barclays community investment programme (3 – 21 October).

As part of the Shakespeare Schools Festival – the UK’s largest and fastest growing theatre celebration – 60 schools across Wales will perform abridged versions of some of the greatest stories ever told in playhouses stretching from the Sherman in Cardiff to Theatre Gwynedd in Bangor.

Students aged 11-16 will produce the playwright’s classics – often with their own unique interpretation. A definite highlight will be St Richard Gwyn Catholic High School in Flint, whose production of Macbeth has already proved something of a local phenomenon. Terry Hands, the former artistic director of the RSC and current Artistic Director of Clwyd Theatr Cymru, has already seen the production and wrote to the school to congratulate them on what he described as “a spectacular, imaginative, poetic piece of work”.

“Our 28-strong cast will use just 12 poles and a red sash to deliver an intensely dynamic and atmospheric ensemble piece and the soundtrack – a chilling and Celtic influenced score - has been composed and produced by 16-year-old Ben Gillham, who also plays Macbeth,” said Bob Fox, director of the production. “It’s the most talented cast I’ve ever worked with,” he added.

Other rich pickings will include Ysgol Gyfun Rhydfelen in Pontypridd, who will deliver their version of Hamlet in Welsh, and Aberdare Boys Comprehensive School in Aberdare who are doing an all-male football inspired Romeo and Juliet, with the feuding Montagues and Capulets replaced by rival football teams. Dee Banks Special School in Chester have chosen to modernise their production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with a mobile-clad city girl Helena, and a Puck that arrives on a Scooter.

Kevin Spacey, Dame Judi Dench, Kwame Kwei-Armah, Sir Tom Stoppard, Nicholas Hytner, Philip Pullman and Cherie Booth QC are among the patrons.

Speaking of his impression of the festival last year, actor and playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah said: “I saw young people of all backgrounds and cultures use this poetic and sometimes difficult language almost as if it were a new fangled street slang, fresh and exclusive to them. It was thrilling beyond words. I only hope that every young person finds a way to tap into this, because I believe that, like me, they will never forget the experience.”

Four schools perform their half-hour plays at the same theatre each night. They are provided with full technical support, together with the Festival’s distinctive set - the word ‘Shakespeare’ spelt out in giant-sized wooden blocks, with each letter doubling up as a prop - the ’H’ doubles as a throne; the ‘A’ is a six-foot ladder.

The ‘teacher-directors’ from each school are invited to a day-long workshop with the Royal Shakespeare Company, while the cast attend a half-day training workshop with Dramarama – a theatre-in-education company.



A special press night will be held at the Sherman Theatre in Cardiff on Tuesday 18th October in front of an audience including Assembly Ministers, celebrities and other VIPs. For press accreditation, please contact Sophie Toumazis or Suzie Schilling at tpr media consultants, 020 8347 7020, enquiries@tpr-media.com.

The Shakespeare Schools Festival (SSF) – now in its sixth year - is a unique arts-education initiative which enables children to perform 30-minute Shakespeare plays in professionally run theatres throughout England and Wales. The Festival operates on a triennial cycle, visiting three or four regions each year. The 2005 Festival features Wales, the North East, South East, & the East Midlands.

In October 2005, 8,000 pupils from 320 schools will be performing at one of 38 professional theatres. Each school selects one of 13 abridged Shakespeare plays. 12 of the scripts were originally adapted by Leon Garfield in the 1990s for the Emmy award winning S4C/BBC series Shakespeare – The Animated Tales, which has become a major teaching resource in secondary schools. A thirteenth script was adapted earlier this year by Oscar-winning playwright, Sir Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare in Love).

In July 2005, SSF joined forces with the BBC to produce 1 Night of Shakespeare – a UK-wide extravaganza which saw an additional 10,000 young performers from 400 schools perform abridged plays in 100 theatres all on one night (Sunday 3 July).

SSF was started in 2001 by Chris Grace MBE, the former director of animation at S4C.

The Board of Trustees include Sir Malcolm Field, Lady Anne Harding, and is chaired by Rupert Pennant-Rea.

The Festival in Wales is supported by the Arts Council of Wales, and the Welsh Assembly Government and sponsored by Barclays. Support also comes from the Local Education Authorities and the Colwinston Charitable Trust in Wales.

In 2004 Barclays global commitment to the community amounted to £32 million, which includes 1% of UK pre-tax profits. As one of the UK’s largest corporate community contributors, the bank aims to achieve real and lasting benefit both for the community and Barclays, by supporting education, social inclusion, people with disabilities, the arts and the environment.

For further information, visit www.ssf.uk.com
 
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: www.ssf.uk.com

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