This is part of an ongoing series of regional Shakespeare coverage. It’s Jen Richardson (TSS’s usual Manchester correspondent) here this week with the latest in Shakespeare news from Warwickshire!
Co-ordinated by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Shakespeare Week is a annual celebration for schools, organisations and families at home. Offering a wide range of resources, the week-long celebration offers an engaging and fun introduction to Shakespeare for children aged 5-11 years old.
With the 2016 Shakespeare Week campaign about to begin, I spoke to Jacqueline Green, the Head of Learning and Participation at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, about the beginnings of Shakespeare Week, its progress and her hopes for its future…
Before its launch last March, how long had it taken to roll out Shakespeare Week to a scheme that thousands of schools/organisations signed up to, and how difficult was the process?
The notion of a national celebration began to emerge in the summer of 2011 when the Learning and Participation team here at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust took up the challenge of responding to a question we had been asking as an organisation: “ Should Shakespeare be a ‘birthright’?”. As educators working with Shakespeare our response was “of course” but it took a while to formulate the means of delivering that aspiration. Having determined we would target primary schools our first priority was to consult with teachers. Their input was vital to shaping the project and indeed to the timing of Shakespeare Week. We then consulted with other cultural organisations and potential funders before launching the project to the press in April 2013 giving schools nearly a year to prepare for the first celebration in March 2014.
What has the overall response been from the teachers/organisations that have taken part and what has been the most popular resource?
From day one teachers have embraced this project and the notion of having fun with Shakespeare. For many teachers taking this opportunity to introduce their children to Shakespeare is a way of stretching their children and raising aspirations. We have also been lucky enough to work with cultural organisations across the UK. All those organisations have been able to see the links to their own work and the opportunities to reach out to audiences resulting in a fantastic range of events and activities for children and their families.
As you might expect our drama, plays and speaking Shakespeare resources are the most popular but not far behind are music and dance, maths and geography. For teachers the cross-curricular scope of the project is one of the key attractions.
According to the feedback you receive, what have been the most positive outcomes to schools taking park in the week-long activities?
The stat that gives me most pleasure is that 40% of the schools that have so far taken part had not previously included Shakespeare in their curriculum. Based on the information we have regarding participation that means that over 0.5 million children have been introduced to Shakespeare because of Shakespeare Week. It is also wonderful to know that 100% of participating teachers believe in the educative value of Shakespeare to their children and that half the children taking part have shown increased confidence in their own creativity.
How do you expect it to grow, and do you think it will ever be something that all schools will take part in one day?
When we launched Shakespeare Week in 2013 we set ourselves the (we believed) ambitious target of recruiting 500 schools to the first celebration. In fact over 3,000 took part in 2014; over 7,000 this year and we have set ourselves the target of reaching 10,000 schools in 2016. Whilst we would never want Shakespeare Week to become mandatory, it is after all about having fun and celebrating Shakespeare, we do want to ensure that every primary school has the opportunity to take part.
Finally, what does Shakespeare, and presenting Shakespeare to children, mean to you?
Shakespeare is a great story teller and as an observer of human nature he can make you feel as if he has a window into your soul. He can make you laugh and cry; his language is by turns lyrical and gut wrenching; he ignites conversation and debate. Above all Shakespeare is for anyone. If, through Shakespeare Week, we can encourage children to take the first few steps of a journey of a lifetime with Shakespeare and inspire them to believe in their own creative abilities then we will have succeeded.
Visit the Shakespeare Week website here, and take a look at their amazing work for yourself!