Drama schools’ focus on film and TV and the decline of regional repertory theatre is eroding young actors’ ability to perform Shakespeare, Gregory Doran has claimed.
The Royal Shakespeare Company boss said drama-school graduates who are entering the industry today “often have less experience with classic texts”, and warned there is a risk that the craft could “diminish or get lost” as a result.
“There are fantastic students coming out of drama schools and there are those that have access [to Shakespeare], but it’s not as widespread as it used to be,” Doran said.
He attributed this in part to the “markets that drama schools are catering for”, with increasing prominence given to preparing students to work in film and TV, but also acknowledged that some actors the RSC now works with may not have accessed formal training or have studied Shakespeare before.
“I also think it’s important to consider the educational backgrounds that those actors are coming from – some have more experience of English literature, for instance, than others do, and that’s important,” he said.
The situation was also due to “the decline of regional theatres having the reps that they used to have”, Doran added.
“You were able to do play after play after play and learn your craft, and these days it’s harder to do that,” he said.
“It’s something that we want to engage with. We want to also create talent pipelines for people who don’t have the opportunity to even think of theatre as being a profession for them.”
As a way of tackling this, Doran spoke of the RSC’s “Shakespeare gym”, where actors working with the company train in iambic pentameter and the skills needed for Shakespearean performance.
“We have to be careful that the craft doesn’t diminish or get lost. We need to keep on making sure that post-drama school, however much those actors have done at drama school, we are a training ground for them,” he said.
He added: “The reason we call it the ‘Shakespeare gym’ is to remind people that you don’t just learn something and carry on practising it – you have to keep on limbering up and keep on honing those skills. It’s a craft.”
Doran was speaking as he announced the RSC’s main-stage work for 2020, which will include a new family musical adapted from the novel The Magician’s Elephant, which will play over Christmas, and a version of The Wars of the Roses, directed by Doran and Owen Horsley.
The Wars of the Roses will be a two-part production, made up of Henry VI Parts 1, 2 and 3.
At the event, Doran said that while he believed Shakespeare “had a hand” in the authorship of Henry VI Part 1, he thought that the playwright almost certainly cannot be credited with writing the play.
However, he added: “Who wrote Shakespeare? I don’t care. Ultimately, we’ve got this fantastic body of plays, and I don’t care who he, she or they were, because we’ve got them.
“I think he was running a stable of writers. Like a Hollywood stable churning out films, they were churning out plays.”