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‘Shakespeare and Race Festival 2022’ – Shakespeare’s Theatre Reimagined

Shakespeare Othello- Daver Morrison and Gavin Hoffman
Shakespeare`s "Othello" played by Daver Morrison at the Portland Center Stage in 2014. Photo by Portland Center Stage. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. The photo has been enlarged.

Staff writer Hannah Gordon reviews the “Shakespeare and Race Festival 2022”, a refreshing and necessary exploration into the theatre of William Shakespeare

The “Shakespeare and Race Festival” is an annual collaboration between King’s College London and the Globe theatre. It spotlights researchers, actors, and directors who explore Shakespeare and race in their work.

Often, conversations about Shakespeare and race fall flat – if they happen at all. I am not sure if it’s the unbearable pain of interrogating an adored dramatist or the fear that Shakespeare could be cancelled. Or maybe it was people like me. Tired of characters like Othello being oversimplified and underexplored.

On my first night in attendance, however, I was pleasantly surprised. I witnessed the remarkable Folger Theatre perform “Our Verse in Time to Come”. This new play commemorated the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s First Folio. It followed the character S.O.S, a former hip-hop legend faced with onset dementia. He hopes to reunite with his children before his memory completely fades. Shakespeare’s influence presented itself in the story and words of the play with a mischievous sprite, quarrelling twins and a mysterious griot.

Shakespeare- The First Folio

The First Folio of Shakespeare was published in 1623. Photo by Ben Sutherland. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. The photo has been enlarged.

This was the first time the play had been performed all the way through. There were no costumes, no special effects, no lines memorised – just sheer onstage talent. I found it refreshing to see Shakespeare’s works stripped back to their core concepts. The cast even remained on stage to discuss the play with the audience, which created an intimate space to share ideas. Everyone was happy to discuss and even disagree on ways to produce this play for future audiences. Shakespeare was being constructed and deconstructed before our very ideas; nothing was too precious to reimagine.

My expectations for the second night were high. “Politics, Performance and the Poetics of Race” had a very hard act to follow. How could conversations remain engaging without the play’s entertainment factor? Well, firstly I must commend the infectious enthusiasm of Akiya Henry, Abigail Graham, and Cameron Knight. Their honesty about trials and successes within the creative industry was so genuine and I appreciated the vulnerability they displayed. They were bold in their theatrical visions, despite their divisive nature. I found this extremely admirable. The lines “it doesn’t always have to be about my blackness” and “people have gone head, not the head, heart soul body” were two stand-out moments, attracting a room of emphatic clicks and nods of agreement from the audience.

Shakespeare and race- Merchant of Venice

Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” at the Pop-up Globe in 2018. Photo by Benny Vandergast. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International License. The photo has been cropped and compressed.

Ms Graham delved into her directing process for Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice”. She brought a rabbi to speak to the cast and performed the first play in Yiddish. I admit, at first, I was slightly perplexed by this uncanny process. I began to understand, however, she was teaching us to be bold in unlearning creative habits. We must be unafraid to design what we feel rather than what we feel is necessary. This unapologetic confidence defined the spirit of the evening.

The enthusiasm of the audience, actors and director was so inspiring. I would like to congratulate Professor Farah Karim-Cooper on the “Shakespeare and Race Festival” which gave many students, including me, the chance to be a part of a literary and theatrical revolution.

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