Tue | Oct 23, 2018

Students to produce Jamaican versions of Shakespeare’s plays

Published:Tuesday | February 17, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Celebrated actress and broadcaster, Leonie Forbes shares a moment with students from Ardenne High during the launch of the Shakespeare Schools' Competition at the British High Commission last week. (From left): Denia Brown, Chaquille Elliot, Karen Nembhard, Akeem Anderson and Alexandra Gregory.

Come next month, 18 Jamaican high schools will vie for the opportunity to tour the United Kingdom in 2016 to showcase their Jamaican adaptation of plays by William Shakespeare.

The unique venture, launched recently at the British High Commission, is the brainchild of Generating Genius founder Dr Tony Sewell and sponsored by the Jamaica National Building Society (JNBS).

The year-long school-based competition, to run from March 2015 to March 2016, will comprise a series of regional rounds across the island and a grand final in Kingston, where the winning school will receive an all-expense-paid tour of the UK, in celebration of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death.

"The winning Jamaican school will tour schools in London, Birmingham and Manchester, inspiring British children to understand Shakespeare and see him through the lens of Jamaica. They will get a chance to perform at Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of Shakespeare, and join the International Shakespeare Festival with students from across the world," Dr Sewell explains.


broadening students' exposure


Shakespeare, who is widely regarded as the world's pre-eminent dramatist, often features as compulsory reading for students who study literatures in English across the world, including students sitting literatures in English in Jamaica and the English-speaking Caribbean, at the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate examination. The championship, however, is geared at broadening students' exposure by allowing them to participate in and view productions of Shakespeare.

The championship targets students in the 10th grade, or fourth form, but will also be open to all secondary-school students at the discretion of their teachers and trainers, Dr Sewell says.

The plays, produced by the students, will be based on abridged 30-minute versions of Shakespeare's plays, but using Jamaican themes and contexts. However, the language of the plays will be maintained. Local audiences will be treated to shows from three participating schools in each regional round.

The project has been endorsed and is being supported by the Ministry of Youth and Culture, the Ministry of Education, the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission, and the Edna Manley College for the Visual and Performing Arts.

Earl Jarrett, general manager, JNBS, says the competition is an important venture that will have an impact on the growth of the young people and, by consequence, the country.

"The arts play an important part in our advancement and is a central part of development," he said, noting his organisation's continued commitment to nation-building through education.

"The arts is a natural part of Jamaica's cultural dispensation and was important to the development of critical thinking. We anticipate that this competition will not only promote a better appreciation for classical literature, but that it will assist students with sharpening their analytical skills, as well as in speaking to different audiences and understanding how to adapt works and information to suit varying contexts," Mr Jarrett said.

Speaking at the launch, Education Minister Ronald Thwaites added that the arts "should not be left behind".

"Education is critical to the development we hope to achieve and, therefore, in our emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math, we also have to emphasise the arts," he said.

Dr Sewell says although the competition centres on Shakespeare's plays, the themes, plots and use of language will be very Jamaican.

"Shakespeare wrote his plays to be understood by ordinary people and to help broaden their level of thinking. It is only in recent times that his works have been linked to the elite. Shakespeare would have been at home in Jamaica, as his plays also include tales of 'duppies' and people speaking to each other using poetic imagery. There are class struggles, revenge and lots of 'mix-up' business. I like to say that Shakespeare was really a Jamaican," said Dr Sewell.