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It’s time to halt the decline of arts in schools (your views, November 1)

Nearly a third of students do not know who William Shakespeare is.
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News that nearly a third of students do not know our greatest playwright is deeply concerning and does not bode well for the future.

As we move towards Brexit and face a future where computers and artificial intelligence replace humans in the workplace, the arts are increasingly vital and must be supported. Yet arts education funding is being cut, the number of young people studying drama at GCSE and A level is declining and there is a teacher recruitment crisis.

Against this background, perhaps it is not surprising that nearly half of children have never been on a school trip to the theatre. There is a genuine threat that Shakespeare is being erased from our cultural memory, belonging only to those from more advantaged backgrounds.

We urgently need to rethink how Shakespeare’s works are taught in schools, and how teachers work with arts organisations and charities to help all young people discover and explore his wonderful plays and poetry.

Shakespeare Schools Foundation runs the world’s largest youth drama festival. We share the transformative power of his work with up to 30,000 students every autumn, when they perform in one of 128 professional theatres across the country. We target schools in the most deprived areas of the UK and work with nearly 100 special schools every year.

Through Shakespeare, young people discover that themes of heartbreak and friendship, jealousy and corruption, despots and democracy are as relevant as ever. Shakespeare can teach us all about what it means to be human.

Our country needs collaborative, articulate, resilient young people, who are creative, communicate well and have high levels of empathy. I have seen first-hand how understanding and performing Shakespeare increases young people’s confidence, broadens horizons and builds life skills. Shakespeare is about more than just beautiful language: his works are key to the kind of society we want to be.

Ruth Brock
Chief executive, Shakespeare Schools Foundation

As a children’s casting director of many years, I am horrified at the decline of the arts in schools. The government is blind to the difference in confidence that participation in drama and music can make to a child.

Every child should experience the joy of watching a play or musical at the theatre. How many leading members of our industry have recounted stories of being inspired by their first visit to the theatre? Similarly, the opportunity to learn a musical instrument is also vitally important to encourage music appreciation.

My daughter was strongly encouraged to take the EBacc. I’m pleased to say she refused because she wanted to take GCSE drama.

I would encourage more parents to refuse the EBacc and fight for the arts. Where will we be in 100 years if this terrible decline continues?

Jo Hawes CDG
Casting director

When I went to grammar school in the 1960s, the timetable covered 10 subjects: English, maths, physics, chemistry, biology, art, music, French, German and religious instruction.

Admittedly, our choices narrowed on entering fourth form (as it then was) into arts and sciences, but even the science option included art or music, and English – which included drama – was compulsory.

Surely drama is an essential part of the way we use the English language. Seeing plays performed is undoubtedly the best way to bring them alive – certainly Shakespeare, which can seem somewhat dull on the page.

Schools should take schoolchildren to see a Shakespeare play, then get their reaction. The energy injected by a two-hour shot of drama will surely be electrifying, and hopefully change their attitude for life.

Paul Clarke
Via the stage.co.uk

Single ticket solution?

I disagree with Richard Purkiss (Letters, October 25). There is discrimination against single ticket purchasing in box office systems used by the big West End theatres and agents.

If you want to book a single ticket in a row of empty seats, you can’t. “Call back when you’ve found a friend,” I was told by someone at the box office. This is outrageous and upsetting. She went on to admit: “We get loads of requests for single tickets.” But do they ever relay those requests back to the management, who might see a window of opportunity for them to change their policy?

Systems could be pre-programmed to allow people to book single tickets. Surely in this communications age when accessible seating can be allocated, box office systems could code occasional pairs of seats as singles?

Why shouldn’t we be happy too?

Anna Marie Hill
Email address supplied

Remembering Dudley Sutton

When I interviewed Dudley Sutton (Obituaries, October 18) in 2011, he was outspoken about almost every aspect of the acting profession, including what he described as the increasing number of venues and producers who expect actors to work for virtually nothing, and then give them no credit.

“There are two ways of rewarding actors,” he said. “One is by paying them, the other is by advertising their talent. If you do neither then you’re cheating.”

Nick Smurthwaite
Via thestage.co.uk

Quotes of the week

Gary McNair. Photo: Jassy Earl
Gary McNair. Photo: Jassy Earl

“Is it not time that we came up with a new pet name for Macbeth? There are literally many thousands of actual Scottish plays.” – Playwright Gary McNair (Twitter)

“I come very obviously with quite strong and well-known views about equality and inclusion, and it’s not that they’re not Greg [Doran, artistic director]’s views, it’s that I am a bit noisier and I have an approach to change that is probably a bit bolder – and he welcomes that.” – Deputy artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company Erica Whyman (Evening Standard)

“The show is 10 times better than it was in London and that totally surprised me. Sam has turned it from Technicolor to HD in the last few weeks and I’m sitting and watching an experience that is so much more detailed than the one I saw in London, which I thought was the absolute pinnacle.” – Jez Butterworth on The Ferryman’s Broadway transfer (Evening Standard)

“[Roy Williams’ Sucker Punch] was one of the best theatre experiences I’ve ever had because I saw people who look like me, who sound like me, telling a story about London. That’s one of the first plays I ever saw and thought, ‘That’s sick. That would be sick if I could do that.’ ” – Actor Tosin Cole (Evening Standard)

“The last two new plays I’ve seen – David Hare’s I’m Not Running at the National and Martin McDonagh’s A Very Very Very Dark Matter at the Bridge – have annoyed me beyond measure. Both have the air of being submitted at the last minute with a Post-It note saying ‘Will this do?’ Why did nobody say, ‘No, actually this won’t do.’ When did theatres get so afraid of our so-called finest playwrights?” – Arts journalist Alice Jones (Twitter)

“There is fear associated with tyrants and bullies in the arts – the fear of their influence damaging your career somehow. That’s scary, but it is also untrue. They can’t. It’s created by the same bullies to keep themselves protected. They are cowards. Arts is kindness not fear.” – Baroque Theatre artistic director Adam Morley (Twitter)

“At the moment I would love to do Sweeney Todd. I think it’s been done recently, so I’ll have to wait a few years, but that’s one that I want to play. I’ve been in it twice, once as chorus and once as Anthony Hope, when I worked with Declan [Donnellan, the director]. I just loved it. I thought it was fantastic.” – Actor Adrian Lester (Evening Standard)

Email your views to alistair@thestage.co.uk Please mark your email as ‘for publication’. The Stage reserves the right to edit letters for publication.

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