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Teach Shakespeare in drama lessons (your views, November 29)

School pupils watch a performance of The Merchant of Venice at Shakespeare's Globe. Chief executive Neil Constable says all students should have this opportunity. Photo: Amit Lennon
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I couldn’t agree more with Patrick Spottiswoode’s column (‘Kids won’t know Shakespeare if they don’t go to the theatre’, November 15, p11) regarding the results of LAMDA’s recent poll of 11 to 18-year-olds.

Viewing Shakespeare as a playwright is probably an alien concept to many children given that they never get the opportunity to attend a play. As I see it, there are two challenges here: funding (as Spottiswoode identifies), and the placement of Shakespeare in the curriculum.

To have flagship programmes such as Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank is terrific, and Newham and Southwark councils’ initiatives should be blueprints for the rest of the country. The results are far-reaching.

Over the last three years, we’ve been touring to the most disadvantaged primary schools, while our most recent project with 11 disadvantaged secondary schools, The Play’s The Thing, has enabled 1,500 children to engage with Shakespeare. One teacher wrote to us: “This will be the only experience of live theatre some of our students have ever had. It will certainly be some students’ only experience of a live Shakespeare play. Many of them will probably never see a production of Shakespeare again.” But why should that be the case?

Change needs to address ‘where’ Shakespeare is placed in the school curriculum. These are plays, written for players to be performed and enjoyed by audiences as entertainment. Why then is Shakespeare not taught in drama? You don’t learn about Mozart in history, so why is Shakespeare the preserve of English literature classes?

I would wager that if we moved Shakespeare to drama lessons, not only would we alter children’s (and their parents’) perceptions of the plays, we would see a shift in the importance of arts provision and its teaching within our education system from central government.

Matt Pinches
Co-founder and producer
Guildford Shakespeare Company Trust

Music tuition is undervalued

The Musicians Union’s research is spot on regarding the take up of music in lower income families. (‘Poorer families priced out of music lessons’, November 15, p5).

Musical directors issue stark warning over future of West End pits as access to music tuition narrows

The rot began in the early 1990s when the government permitted head teachers to allow money allocated for music tuition to be spent on other educational requirements. I taught in a Leicestershire high school of 800 pupils and before then, we had an orchestra of 50 musicians and I ran the military band of 60 players. Only a handful played in both.

The numbers meant musicians were not regarded as oddities by non-players. The local music shop hired out instruments until the asking price had been paid, when it became the parents’ property. The band performed about six outside concerts a year, which enhanced the players’ self-esteem and gave pleasure to others. There has been no music of that kind in the school since. Leicestershire, at one time, provided a good number of professional musicians.

Unlike being active in team sports (always promoted by experts to keep youngsters fit), music can be played and enjoyed for life. I have 80-year-olds playing in my local orchestra but where are the younger musicians to replace them? So many of them are only familiar with electronic music and have little or no experience of the natural tones of classical instruments.

Alas, the government seems not to care as it seems to wish everyone pursue an academic curriculum whether students are suited to it or not. The arts, in their many forms, are an essential part of education and not an ‘add-on’ if time can be found. Ministers of both parties have frequently expressed the importance of music and the arts, but spectacularly failed to provide the funds to make it so.

Ted Bottle
Coalville, Leicestershire

All theatres add extra ticket fees

Further to Peter Kettle’s letter (November 15, p6), it’s worth saying it is not only ATG that adds extra fees to ticket prices. Almost all West End theatre managements (and some regional theatres) also do so. Without a box office a venue wouldn’t have an audience, so the ostensible justification – that the cost of online ticketing should be borne by the customers who benefit, even if they do much of the work themselves – has always been difficult to swallow.

If the costs of other overheads, such as ushers, bar staff, cloakrooms, cleaning and electricity, aren’t added on top of the ticket price, it’s hard not to conclude that “booking fees” only exist to give theatreowners extra income that they don’t then have to share with a producing management.

Don Keller
Via email

More operetta for London

Good news for operetta lovers: English National Opera is reviving The Merry Widow in 2019.

I recently visited Budapest and attended a gala performance at the Operetta Theatre, including excepts from many well-known shows by Lehar, Kalman, Strauss and Brahms.

But it seems that lovers of this kind of music have to travel to Berlin, Budapest or Vienna to enjoy such operettas now, as Sadler’s Wells is mainly a dance house.

Graham Tubb
Seaford
East Sussex

Quotes of the week

Madani Younis

“It was definitely hard at the beginning to find the artists and defend my choices. At the beginning, people said: ‘That shit is too radical.’” – Bush Theatre artistic director Madani Younis (Evening Standard)

“I’m a working-class #actor. It irks me that when I was at school I had no support when I decided to ‘become an actor’… I had no awareness of schools such as RADA and LAMDA. This needs to change. Everyone has a voice. Let’s fucking use them.” – Actor Elliott Rogers (Twitter)

“Sat in the audience at the Bush Theatre tonight to pay tribute to outgoing artistic director Madani. It’s astonishing to think how the place has been transformed in the last seven years. What a legacy.” – Writer Hannah Khalil (Twitter)

“Very boss night at the Bush Theatre tonight, saying thanks to Madani for seven years. He’s programmed me in twice. He’s a proper leader. He cares about the community of Shepherd’s Bush. He cares about moving art forward. He has no ego. We can all learn from him.” – Writer Luke Barnes (Twitter)

“Been thinking a lot about notes and criticism lately. Of the thousands of notes I have given playwrights. I’ve always strived to be loving. Firm. Clear. Because writing is really, really hard. Before you ever give a note, try writing a single line of meaningful dialogue… It’ll be shit. So be nice to writers. Ask yourself why you’re giving them notes. If they ask you, that is the highest compliment you can receive. That means they care about your thoughts.” – Director Nadia Latif (Twitter)

“There’s a whole different attitude in New York. It’s a hard attitude. I have a love-hate relationship with it and I’m a New Yorker. It’s true if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. The pressure on you to succeed is intense. It demands so much of you – but less so here. It’s a time-honoured job here, while in New York it’s about money and success.” – Patti LuPone on working on the West End compared to Broadway (Vogue)

“I came to acting not by watching movies or going to the theatre, but through reading and wanting to be the person who gave life to these words and communicate that to an audience. I just had that very strong instinct.” – Juliet Stevenson (Yorkshire Post)

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