The Renaissance Moved Reading Project brings to life plays from the English Renaissance period on the New Fortune Theatre stage. Every play in the programme is read with the help of willing students, staff, friends and family.

Our Literature Editor, Vanessa Karas, asked the moved readings co-ordinator, Brid Philips, about the project.

How do moved readings benefit students learning Shakespeare as opposed to them just reading the plays on the page?

Exploring the characters, the emotions, the words, and the action through an embodied reading allows all participants to explore the text in an exciting and creative way. Entrances and exits become more significant and participants can see how the physical environment can affect relationships between characters. The significance of any stage directions also becomes more apparent.

Some of the benefits mentioned by students were that they understood character interactions, they got more of the humour, and they got to know other members of the unit better. One student said that it was a much more engaging way of reading, and that it allowed for a deeper understanding of the play and interactions between characters and space. This is something that can be missed when you’re just reading a play silently, you can miss or just skim over the movement of characters. A moved reading lets you see the physical relationships between characters.

Why should students still care about Shakespeare?

This is a curve ball, as I believe it is an individual decision to decide what interests you. I think students should care about Shakespeare if they are attracted to learning about human relations. There is a lot to be learnt about human interactions both good and bad, humorous and dark in the text of a Shakespeare play. And let’s not forget that he is entertaining! He wrote to entertain and to do so in a manner that appealed to a wide range of audience members while being commercially viable. Today, we can still see a Shakespeare production that is exciting and entertaining, while it asks us to think about more than we realise.

What do you love about Shakespeare? 

I love many things about Shakespeare – firstly, I find his plays entertaining, funny, sad, uplifting and thought-provoking. Secondly, his grasp of human interactions can teach us a lot about our own interactions. We also can gain an insight into both universal and particular instances of human behaviour now and in early modern times. The fact that after hundreds of years we still find appeal is a curiosity that makes me want to know more.

If you could only ever remember one Shakespearean monologue, which one would it be and why?

ShylockTo bait fish withal: if it will feed nothing else,
it will feed my revenge. He hath disgraced me, and
hindered me half a million; laughed at my losses,
mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my
bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine
enemies; and what’s his reason? I am a Jew. Hath
not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs,
dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with
the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject
to the same diseases, healed by the same means,
warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as
a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed?
if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison
us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not
revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will
resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian,
what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian
wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by
Christian example? Why, revenge. The villany you
teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I
will better the instruction.

The Merchant of Venice, Act 3 Scene 1.

This speech resonates with ideas in early modern times, but in fact it is just as pertinent today. Do we not still make assumptions about others based on race, religion, cultural background, and even life opportunities? We are all human, although this is easy to forget when we discuss refugees, people from religions other than our own or those who may have another skin colour. Strip us back, and the similarities outweigh the differences.

There is a lot of the criticism in the theatre community around the ethics of staging Shakespeare plays when the choice to program one of his works is at the cost of programming a new work by an emerging playwright. Have you considered putting on moved readings of contemporary plays?

I think that using the forum for contemporary plays would be a great progression for the space. It is such a wonderful space for experimental theatre as well as early modern creations. I think that one should not be at the expense of the other.  Once people start seeing the initiative as worthwhile and engaging, I think that there will be a good uptake for all forms of drama in the Moved reading space. I know how hard it is for emerging writers having followed the hard work that my cousin puts in to put new work out there.

What would you say to students thinking about participating in a moved reading who might be apprehensive or lack acting experience?

I would say that the most apprehensive person there is usually me! I like to worry about many aspects of each event and therefore when I have students come along I feel able to put them at ease as I understand the nerves that wrack us. What I will say is there is no standard required past a loud reading voice, acting skill is not a pre requisite, and all ages and abilities can join in and give it a go. It is an ephemeral experience which is marked by fun memories rather than a critical eye. Come along and read and be part of those memories! We are all for putting people at ease and we are very used to swapping readers in and out depending on how long people want to read for.

What should students do if they are interested in getting involved?

Students can keep their eye on the webpage which features dates for the upcoming events. At the moment I am away for the beginning of Semester Two, but I am hoping to arrange dates for late in the semester.

Where do you want to see the project in future? 

As we go forward we are hoping to see the Moved Readings become a tradition which is a focal point for staff and students in the humanities. It can be an educational experience but we are also happy to see it as downtime and fun for all participants.

Vanessa Karas | Literature Editor