Last month in London eight poets and performers from a variety of backgrounds came together to help shape a new project exploring Shakespeare and migration: Bards without Borders. Working in partnership with Counterpoints Arts and Platforma, the session was run by Arne Pohlmeier (artistic director of Two Gents Productions) and the poet and facilitator Laila Sumpton.
The group explored a scene from Shakespeare’s Henry VI through drama and creative writing exercises. The artists unpacked the meaning in the text finding their own connections to the themes of gender roles, power and marriage. Two poets improvised the scene in Arabic and Sinti and all participants wrote new monologues for the central characters.
The poetry showed the variety of approaches each artist could take, and were well crafted and performed, showing the potential of performance the group will create.
Bangladeshi poet Shamim Azad asked for more workshops to develop a performance. ‘We want to take a slice of Shakespeare to the community and have collective ownership,” she said. “This is important to me both as a writer and as a community member.”
The artists in Bards Without Borders were from a range of backgrounds: Jordanian, Somalian, Tanzanian, Bangladeshi, British Romani, Nigerian, British and Kosovan. All shared an interest and respect for Shakespeare’s work, and really enjoyed finding their own creative responses to a previously unknown text.
Arne and Laila discussed the plan for the artists to create a new performance inspired by Shakespeare’s work to reach audiences who might not often access it, and we were delighted to hear the support and enthusiasm for this idea.
British Romani poet Damien Le Bas said, “I find theatre intimidating, even as an educated member of my own community. I believe in this project- Shakespeare is not available to many people. This will be a talked about project, I can see there being professional prestige for us in this project.”
Somalian storyteller Farrah Mohammad said, “I want to help bring Shakespeare to young people. This fits in with what I do to engage invisible community members. The project is important for challenging the media bias against migrants and refugees- it is good to help new settlers own Shakespeare.”
List of artists: Shamim Azad, Freddy Macha, Damian Le Bas, Farah Mohammoud, Tolu Agbelusi, Alia’ Kawalit, Sam Holand, Ardi Mejzini
See also, Freddy Macha’s blog about the session
UPDATE: Nov/December 2015
Three more BWB workshops are being run, leading to a performance on 3rd Decmeber: www.hackneyshowroom.com/BWB
Photos and film by Sam Harris