Happy Birthday Shakespeare!

Image result for shakespeare's birthday

Here’s a fun fact.  Did you know Shakespeare was born on 23rd April 1564, and then died exactly 52 years later?  So when could be a more fitting day to celebrate the life and work of Shakespeare than on 23rd April?

On Sunday 23rd April 2017 four fantastic festivals were held across the midlands, celebrating Shakespeare and sharing the talents of new and upcoming young artists between the ages of 11 and 25.  Festivals were held in Corby, Horncastle, Wolverhampton, and Tamworth.

My husband and I chose to spend the day at the Tamworth festival which was called ‘Shake It Up’.  It was held in the beautiful grounds of Tamworth Castle.  Thankfully the weather was sunny; Shakespeare must have been smiling down on us.


We arrived early, and so stood on the hill with cups of tea, watching the youngsters rehearse their performances and organisers set up various workshops and sound equipment.  It was a hive of activity; you could appreciate just how much work had gone into this event, and later we appreciated just how passionate and enthusiastic the young artists were about their festival.

Landau Forte Dance and Upbeat Dance Studio


The day kicked off with a performance by Landau Forte Dance, inspired by Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ called ‘Enchanted Forest’.  In total there were four imaginative group dance routines, plus a number of solo performances, peppered throughout the day.  They retold the basic stories and themes of Shakespeare’s plays through a mix of dance and narration. My personal favourite was ‘Romeo and Juliet’, which was full of energy and emotion, mirroring the raw feelings and conflicts between the families of Montague and Capulet.



Phoenix Theatre and Fired Up Theatre

On stage were also strong performances by ‘Phoenix Theatre’ and ‘Fired Up Theatre’: both groups of talented young actors.  ‘Fired Up Theatre’ chose to act out ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ (my personal favourite of all Shakespeare’s plays), in about 5 minutes.  They did a great job squeezing the essence of the play and all its themes into such a short time frame.

Phoenix Theatre took a very different approach to using Shakespeare as inspiration, and the end result was funny, light, and entertaining.  The group chose to imagine what it would be like ‘if Shakespeare were alive today’, and had carefully constructed amusing sketches around that theme.  One imagining considered what it would be like to be taught by Shakespeare in a modern-day classroom, and another sketch mused how Shakespeare would order a pint of ale from Starbucks.  They ended the day with an interactive performance called ‘Shakespeare on Trial’, where the audience had a competition listening out for quotes from Shakespeare’s work which the actors had cleverly included seamlessly in their scripts.  It transpired 33 quotes had been used!


Solo Artists

Apart from the dance solos, there were other solo performances including: poetry by George Radcliffe, a hula-hoop routine by Rosalyn Norford, James Attwood (a musician), and Mercy Levett (a singer songwriter).  All were inspiring young people, sharing their talents to an audience alone on a stage.  Rosalyn, James, and Mercy were advertised as ‘featured artists’ in the programme.

George recited the poem ‘Straight out of Stratford’ by Dan Greenway, which was an incredibly meaty poem (kudos for learning it by heart) and was delivered brilliantly.  As well as sharing poetry, George showed a superb flair for announcing and directing the audience, a bit like a Master of Ceremonies, due to his confidence and friendly persona.

The other festival-goers and I agreed that we’d never seen anything quite like Rosalyn’s hula-hoop act.  Rosalyn emphasised this was her first performance to an audience, and that she was relatively new at this.  Despite this, the on-lookers were rapt with attention.  I heard whisperings around me like, “how can she get into that position with a hoop?”, and, “she must have insanely strong legs to do that”.  Here’s photo to illustrate what these comments were referring to:


You’re amazed too, right?

Unfortunately I missed the performances by Mercy and James, however I have looked them up online and watched some of their videos.  It’s true what the festival-goers said: they are fantastic and their ‘sounds’ were very enjoyable to listen to.  Here’s a bit more information about them both for you to check out if you’d like to.  I totally recommend it:

Mercy Levett: https://cannonhillcollective.com/meet-the-collective-2/meet-the-collective-201415/mercy-levett/

James Attwood: https://www.facebook.com/jamesattwoodmusic/

Workshops and Stalls

Around the grounds were various workshops and stalls that the community could get involved with.  They included: an Egg Hunt, face painting, food stalls, a dance workshop based on ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, a calligraphy workshop, and a photo booth complete with Elizabethan costumes.  Personally I got involved with the calligraphy workshop (I wanted to write like Shakespeare), and the dance workshop (which was meant for kids… but you know… I needed to start somewhere).

At the calligraphy stall I was taught by a 6th former who had an interest in calligraphy and had decided to run her own workshop on it.  I had a good teacher, don’t you think?


I was also quite taken with this poetic piece of writing by a student, who came along to support the young artists and found enjoyment writing with coloured inks and quills.  Apparently the writing ‘came from nowhere’, but in the right environment I believe ideas can just ‘flow’.


The dance workshop was a great idea for getting festival-goers involved.  One of the over-arching ideas of these festivals is not just to share the talents of young artists, but also to inspire others and help them find their own passions.

Let me just swap from my Art Hat to my Teacher Hat…  

As I may have said before, there are schools who are under so much pressure to ‘get their grades up’, that they have dropped creative subjects in favour for extra hours on academic subjects.  Of course I love teaching Maths, as I have almost definitely said before, and find there are ways to make subjects like Maths very creative.  The matter remains though, that subjects like Art, Design and Technology, Dance, Music, and Drama are at a low.  According to ‘Arts Professional’, entries for GCSE arts subjects have fallen by 46,000 in 2016 compared to the previous year, based on recorded exam entries for 2016.  I am aware that Design and Technology is the worst hit, which has been falling drastically since 2003.


So some of these workshops were a good opportunity to inspire others, and encourage others to practice these art forms through extra-curricular activities.

Image result for emerge young artists logo

‘Emerge’ is the founding organisation of these festivals, and the larger picture for them is to help students find a way to be creative when schools are not able to, and draw attention to this problem.  One of the jigsaw pieces are these festivals, which encourage youngsters to run their own festival, guided by a Young Artist, and share and celebrate their emerging art forms.


I would like to end this blog with the very good news (which George happily announced): the Shakespeare festivals will be back next year!  Not only that, but they will be even bigger and better with 12 festivals happening across the midlands.  With that many artists getting involved, how exciting and varied could these Shakespeare festivals get next year?  Imagination is the only limit.

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