Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan

Written by Farha Akhtar

Even Shakespeare, the world’s greatest bard lived through a pandemic. The experience of living in quarantine is said to have influenced Shakespeare’s own works and the forced closure of theatres actually transformed the way theatre was delivered.

Just as great players of the past have had to adapt to pandemics, this generation has had to do the same.  Saskatchewan’s own Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan Festival Inc. has been no different. Prior to COVID-19, the organization had been running a successful in-school program supported by K+S Potash Canada’s Youth + Us Strategy which brought some of Shakespeare’s greatest works into schools across the province. Launched in 2017, #shakespearesasklive is a workshop-style program that was delivered in-person by actors and facilitators who travelled to various schools teaching youth about Shakespeare through interactive performance. Children as young as five to youth in their late teens had the opportunity to learn the historical context a play was set in. They were given a chance to learn lines and even perform alongside some of the festival’s own actors in performances for their classmates. Classic works were often adapted with a modern twist and presented in ways that would be more meaningful to young audiences.

Angela Christie, of the Festival says the workshops were extremely successful having been delivered to over 2500 youth across the province in 2019 over a 5-week period.The #shakespearesasklive team of educators brought their programming to schools as far North as La Loche, and to small villages such as Bethune.

That successful run came to a sudden halt once the pandemic hit. Social-distancing requirements and new safety protocols forced many schools to close their doors to outside organizations, even those providing educational programming.  

“We were just ready to head out to the schools when COVID hit,” explains Christie. “We had no idea what was about to happen. We still rehearsed. We thought it was a shame we couldn’t continue in person.”

Christie and her colleagues recognized they needed a creative solution to ensure Shakespeare and the love of the arts was kept alive for Saskatchewan students and their communities during a time of social distancing. 

“Back in March, we decided to present a version of the workshop that was recorded,” Christie explains.

“The idea was that our facilitators and actors would continue their roles and what we needed was the help of the community to fill in the other parts. So we sent out a request to community via social media platforms asking people to read single lines from either Macbeth or the Tempest as part of the #shakespearesasklive video challenge. We took all of their recorded clips and created two video presentations of those plays.”

15-year-old Alexa and 17-year-old Isabel Torres were two students who took part in the #shakespearesasklive video challenge. The two admit it wasn’t the same as experiencing the excitement of performing live on stage in front of an audience, but being able to read and perform in an online rendition of Macbeth was fulfilling in a different way. 

“I really love theatre and when everything shut down my theatre classes were the thing that I missed the most,” explains Alexa who lives in the town of Kenaston. 

“Being able to do that clip was a way of doing something I loved again.”

“I first heard about the challenge when my drama teacher made a post about it on our Google Classroom,” Isabel says. 

“I was excited and could not wait to submit my own video. My motivation came from my hopes and dreams of becoming a professional actor, and I thought that this would be beneficial practice for me. Because of this, I decided to perform one of Lady Macbeth's lines from "Macbeth" and send it in.”

The Saskatoon student says she was excited to see her clip was included in the video for Macbeth, and she thanks Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan Festival for providing the opportunity for young people like herself,

“I was very grateful for the opportunity to show off my skills when the video was posted, and I find that I still am to this day. The "Macbeth" video was amazing and everyone did so well; I hope to participate in similar activities in the future.”

Angela Christie says her team of facilitators have also adapted their existing #shakespearesasklive materials into online resources.  They encourage teachers to use these materials to facilitate play readings in their own classrooms. Teachers are provided with scripts, descriptions of the play’s characters, and even suggestions on how to use props and costumes.

The Festival is hoping to offer online workshops in schools in a few months time. They will be piloting a modified program which will bring the company’s actors and facilitators into classrooms via video-conferencing programs such as Zoom. Christie says while online learning may not be the way Shakespeare has traditionally been taught, the company is finding benefits to presenting it in this way.

“By presenting it by Zoom it eliminates the cost of travel. This allows us to maximise the number of students we can reach. We can fill our day with more workshops and more students. There are some benefits to it for sure.”

Christie says while the pandemic has had an impact on the work of #shakespearesasklive, it’s vital the show must go on.

“It’s about breaking down barriers. I know a lot of students may not know much about Shakespeare or have the best or most knowledgeable teachers. Shakespeare happens to be our forte, so students will get more out of it when we present Shakespeare to them.”

“We are trying to make Shakespeare more accessible to everyone.”


 

K+S Potash Canada is proud to partner with Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan as they continue to inspire joy, creativity, and confidence in Saskatoon’s youth through the Shakespeare Live! workshops.

© K+S Potash Canada GP, 2021