A Midsummer Night's Dream come true for Hong Kong teachers

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 August, 2014, 9:54am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 August, 2014, 9:54am

More than four centuries after the birth of William Shakespeare, schools worldwide are still learning about the great playwright's works. And this week, 36primary and secondary school teachers from Hong Kong will be trained in London on how to teach Shakespeare through performance.

For eight days they will learn from Globe Education coaches at Shakespeare's Globe, on Bankside, as they get to grips with the plays, their contexts and the skills needed to help students play them out on stage.

Every year the Globe's educational arm trains teachers from around the world as part of their broad outreach initiative.

"Our ambition is to give teachers the opportunity for professional development at the Globe; they will then train others in what they have learned," says the Globe's chief executive, Neil Constable, who was in Hong Kong, en route to a school Shakespeare festival in New Zealand.

In May, one of Globe Education's practitioners gave workshops here to more than 500 primary and secondary students from 20 schools at the Shakespeare4All Learning and Participation Festival. Students staged public performances of plays, including Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and The Taming of the Shrew.

Each year, the group welcomes 100,000 students with tailored programmes and Lively Action workshops for preschool to postgraduate. It also develops outreach programmes to meet demand for work that it cannot accommodate on the Globe site.

Undoubtedly, Shakespeare's works open up an intriguing world of human relations and values, albeit in a not-so-familiar language to most students.

Training is indispensable to help teachers and students understand the intricacies, and so is knowledge in performing arts as 37 Shakespearean works were written for the stage.

"Our educational practitioners are all actors," Constable says. "Getting those plays up and rehearsing short scenes, as well as improving understanding of English, gives people confidence of performance capability and in using English rather than just reading it."

Many words and phrases used today were created by the playwright, Constable says. "The opportunities for understanding Shakespeare in Asia help people have a better grasp and understanding of English. Our approach to teaching Shakespeare is about performing it.

"The plays were written to be performed, not just studied; it's depressing when you go into a class - someone has the English text that's been translated, but it's not got people up on their feet, being acted."

The huge educational value of Shakespearean works means they have not been discarded during the digital age; the Globe offers lots of digital content.

In Europe, the plays are on the German school curriculum. The Globe works with 25,000 German students and a huge number of French students every year, Constable says.

"The great thing about them is that, although they are from 400 years ago, they are still true today. They are a passport for life. If students start to understand the stories, they will find out they have so much to say about themselves and the world; Shakespeare is not just owned by English speakers."

In April, the Globe embarked on a two-year global tour of Hamlet in celebration of the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth. The theatre group is travelling to 196 nations to stage Hamlet in venues from village squares and beaches, to national theatres and palaces.

The mainland is on the itinerary for August next year, but Hong Kong will miss out because of a scheduled performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream, by another theatre group at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts this November.

However, Constable hopes people will see for themselves London's open-air Globe Theatre, the place where the works were first performed. The theatre was reconstructed in 1997.

"The Globe's mission is to be the first point of reference for people to understand and enjoy Shakespeare."