‘to enrich and enhance life skills through the study, production and performance of Shakespeare’s works’.
Aim of the Regional and National University of Otago Sheilah Winn Shakespeare Festival
Earlier this month I happened to see an article in my local free paper about the regional secondary school’s Shakespeare Festival, which was to be held that Sunday. As it was Shakespeare, and as it was being held in my old school hall, and as tickets were only $5, I decided to head it along and check it out.
The regional Shakespeare Festival, which involved schools from the Whanganui-Manawatu-Rangitikei district, was the qualifier for the National Shakespeare Festival, to be held in Wellington in June. The National Festival is in turn the qualifier for the Shakespeare Globe Centre New Zealand (SGCNZ) National Shakespeare Schools Production and the SGCNZ Young Shakespeare Company, which performs at The Globe in London.
In other words, this is a high stakes game.
The criteria for performances runs thus:
Performances may be set in any context, period, or place, as long as the essence and the integrity of Shakespeare’s play is retained. Assessment is made on the understanding and delivery of the text, interpretation of characters and theme, vitality and overall impression. [Students should] Read and be familiar with the whole text. Appropriate inclusion of other performing art forms, as well as acting, is encouraged. Attention should be paid to the connection with the Audience, mindful that the plays were written for audiences in full view of, and acknowledged by, actors. Consideration should be given to use of space and movement.
Entries could be either five minutes long (student directed) or fifteen minutes long (directed be either a student or an adult), and the text could be edited and dialogue reassigned if necessary to make the adaptation work. With such a broad set of criteria, the fourteen pieces directed varied hugely, from very traditional interpretations, such as Whanganui High School’s scene from Henry V (Act III, Scene IV), delivered as written entirely in what was described as Shakespeare’s ‘Google Translate French’, which got a huge laugh from the audience, to Whanganui Girls’ College’s imaginative take on the witches’ meeting with Macbeth, in which the Witches were three little girls put to bed by their mother, Hecate, who instead scared themselves by playing ‘puppets’ with Macbeth and Banquo (the latter portrayed, with suitable creepiness, as a toy clown).
Although there were many talented young actors to be seen, the standout performer for me was without question Rachel McLean, a Year 13 (final year) student from Feilding High School, who last year won one of those coveted places in the Young Shakespeare Company’s trip to the Globe. This year she tackled the roles of Richard II (Richard II Act IV Scene I), Coriolanus (Coriolanus Act IV Scene V and Act V Scene VI), and Ophelia (Hamlet, excerpts from Act III Scene I, Act IV Scene V and Act IV Scene VII), as well as turning her hand to directing with the entry from Hamlet and another from As You Like It (Act V Scene II and Act V Scene III).
Other highlights were the dance of the fairies, beautifully costumed with floaty butterfly wings, as they lulled Queen Titania to sleep (Wanganui High School’s Midsummer Night’s Dream Act II Scene I & II), Queen Margaret, Queen Elizabeth and the Duchess of York as old women bitterly lamenting their losses in a rest home (Whanganui Girls’ College’s Richard III Act IV Scene IV – watching Queen Elizabeth barge her way around the stage with her walker was particularly effective), two different, and innovative, takes on Lady Macbeth’s mad scene (Macbeth Act V Scene I), both by Wanganui Collegiate School, and the sole entry from Palmerston North Girl’s High School, returning after several years with The Merry Wives of Windsor Act I Scene I.
The Regional Shakespeare Festival is an annual event which, in my opinion, deserves a lot more attention from both the schools and the general public than it received.
Gat Shack Wanganui Award for Best Use of Music – Wanganui High School for A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Paul Collins Award for Best Delivery of Text – Emelye Brown as Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Wanganui High School); honourable mention to Ali Gammeter as Puck in the same scene.
Suit Hire Award for Best Male Costume – Mel Logue as Macbeth (Whanganui Girls’ College).
Etcetera Fashion Award for Best Female Costume – Rachel McLean as Ophelia (Feilding High School’s Hamlet).
National Shakespeare Schools’ Production Direct Entry Student – Rebecca Harpur (Feilding High School); honourable mention to Karen Lau (Wanganui High School) for her direction of Macbeth.
Student Directed 5 minute Excerpt Winner – Whanganui High School for Henry V.
15 Minute Scene Winner – Whanganui Girls’ College for Macbeth.
Please excuse the lack of photos: my one regret is that I didn’t take my camera and was seated too far back to take effective pictures on my phone.