In January of this year I was in Dallas, Texas at the Shakespeare Theatre Association annual conference that gathers together producers of Shakespeare from around the world. A few of us gathered in the mornings of the conference for a light movement warmup to prepare for the day ahead. On the final morning we became aware that one of the hotel staff was on the edge of the room, and was joining in. At one point, he even went to the door of the room and tried to draw fellow staff members inside!
Through this encounter I was reminded that we must always take time to invite and welcome others into our world and our work. When our practice is a holistic endeavour it can be accessed by all who wish to engage. Offering space and permission to others to connect with their bodies is a vital, necessary, and practical way of genuinely engaging with the communities we find ourselves working in.
In the months that followed, our communities across the world have faced considerable collective trauma due to COVID-19. In this time, a great light has also been shone on the injustices and inequalities that remain embedded in our systems. We face acute crises such as the pandemic and the exit of the UK and Northern Ireland from the European Union, and chronic crises in the form of climate change and the death throes of white supremacy.
It is at this time that I reaffirm my commitment to the plays of Shakespeare as a beacon of hope and possibility for change. As we emerge from these acute crises, the direction and programming of Shakespeare.scot must respond in innovative ways in order to become a radical space in which our communities can begin to heal, through the work of William Shakespeare.
Below I will link to an excellent and insightful article by Madeline Sayet that may be discomforting reading for many of us as it speaks truths we would rather not hear.
Every play demands that we work with three timeframes: the time the play was written, the time the play is set, and the time the play is being performed. In each of these timeframes, white supremacy has the potential and the likelihood of existing.
This is true of all plays, but it is particularly true of plays by Shakespeare due to the industry that has sprung up around him.
There are so many extraordinary people leading our Shakespeare companies around the world, and they are generous, compassionate, kind human beings. They are also mostly white, and working within organisations that structurally do not seem to support the advancement of non-white theatre professionals. Thankfully, the events of 2020 have led to long overdue conversations and the beginning of action in this respect.
If we are to imagine a future in which white supremacy is dismantled, it is incumbent on us as artists to actively challenge and subvert it through the decisions we make in staging productions, and to make sure that Shakespeare is one voice among many in our theatre culture. There are no easy fixes and no cheat codes when it comes to all of this – just continual practice and deeper thinking required as always.
I have a vision for shakespeare.scot that is fiercely local and radically global. What happens in our work should be deeply responsive to the needs of local communities across Scotland, but should be celebrated with international audiences through an imaginative use of digital platforms. Strong connections to the world elsewhere through such a strategy will inspire audiences to travel not only from other places across the the UK, but across the globe.
Shakespeare.scot will create space for excellence and experimentation, producing high quality work while creating space for debate and clear pathways for our communities to engage with the work. The works of Shakespeare allow for audiences to extend their understanding of themselves.
In the first scene of Hamlet, we hear Francisco request of Barnardo “Stand and unfold yourself!” This is the challenge for all Shakespearean artists – to be present with each other and to unfold our stories. The Shakespearean stage in the 21st century must become a place where all can discover themselves.
– alasdair hunter, artistic director, shakespeare.scot