Arts Arts Editor Muse

Life in Lockdown:'The Show Must Go On'

Elizabeth Walsh speaks to Shakesoc about how they’re keeping performance alive despite the current circumstances.

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Image Credit: Shakespeare Society

'Life in Lockdown' is an interview series focusing on people, organisations or student societies who are adapting to isolation in interesting and innovative ways. If you’d like to talk about your experiences in lockdown or share how your student group has adjusted during the pandemic, email editor@nouse.co.uk; we’d love to hear from you.

Whilst a lot of things have come to a standstill during the lockdown, societies at York certainly have not. They have continued to soldier on despite numerous setbacks and restrictions , finding new and innovative ways to keep members engaged and inspired. As the performing arts are heavily reliant on physical interaction and live audience engagement, these societies have arguably been worst affected. However, as the theatrical saying goes, “the show must go on” and this is exactly the mentality that Shakespeare Society has adopted.

Shakesoc have worked towards keeping spirits high, despite the cancellation of events which would ordinarily bring members and spectators alike a great source of joy. Instead, they have adapted and introduced new initiatives that they hope will become more permanent in the Society’s annual calendar of events. I was delighted to speak to Amy, the chair of Shakespeare Society, and Joe, their long-standing secretary, about their recent events and plans for the future.

They each began by telling me a bit about the Society. Amy explained that they are a performance society that are unsurprisingly, “based around all things Shakespeare”. They aim to stage two large-scale productions every year with other performance opportunities and activities running each term. I was especially interested to find out that the society originally operated in the arts and culture bracket, initially founded in reading. As they realised that people were more engaged with the performance aspect this then became the main focus. Shakesoc will officially be reclassified as a music and performance society as of the next academic year.

Involvement is not, however, limited to performing in the shows. Amy told me that her favourite thing about  Shakesoc is that, “there is something for everyone to do.” Members can get involved with production or equally just attend the socials and hang-outs. Joe’s favourite aspect is that, “there are opportunities to engage with texts on a number of different levels.” As well as traditional depictions of well-known classics, the Society also looks to put their own spin on these  timeless plays. In the past, this has included performing in unconventional locations and staging unique adaptations such as Rosaline and Juliet in which both protagonists were female.

As with many highly anticipated summer term events, the pandemic significantly affected Shakesoc’s plans Amy explained that they were looking forward to the Summer Shakespeare Festival which would have included excerpts from different plays being performed at multiple locations around campus. Joe added that although they were disappointed that it couldn’t go ahead, the lockdown has given the committee a welcome opportunity to plan and prepare for the first term back.

With everything being moved to an online format, the opportunities for performance have been limited. However, a new initiative that people can get involved with is the Romeo and Juliet Creative Festival. When I asked what the inspiration behind the festival was, Amy told me that: “Romeo and Juliet itself is arguably Shakespeare’s most well-known play. It has been transformed into so many different mediums in modern pop culture that we felt it was a great starting point for people to base their ideas around.” She further explained that it is an “opportunity to go wild.”

As part of the Creative Festival, members are invited to submit anything related to the Romeo and Juliet theme. Joe noted that the aim is to, “use the text as a stimulus and see what happens after that.” Submissions can take any form, from people recording themselves performing an extract of the play, to writing something new (a script, prose or poetry) or even something related to production. This may include designing a piece for the set, costume or lighting. The possibilities are endless. Submissions for the Romeo and Juliet Creative Festival are being accepted until 2 August and can be sent to shakesoc@yusu.org. A selection of the best submissions will be showcased on the Society’s Facebook page, so keep an eye out!

Looking ahead, both Amy and Joe explained that they would love to make the festival a regular event, should it prove to be popular. If it were to be adapted into the Society’s regular timetable they would like to focus on a different play every time.  As well as the festival, another of the exciting projects the society is currently working on is the Spring 2021 production of Twelfth Night. The production is a great opportunity for anyone who wants to get involved with performing or working in the production team.

To finalise, I asked whether there was anything else about the Society that they would like Nouse readers to know about. It was emphasized that you do not have to have been to any previous Shakesoc events to get involved. They are always looking for new people to take part and all the information needed to attend the events can be found on the UOY Shakespeare Society Facebook Page.

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