RSC in NE schools and theatres this autumn

Published: 23 July 2019
Reporter: Peter Lathan

The Merchant of Venice Credit: RSC
Robin Belfield Credit: Julia Nottingham / RSC
Paula James as Emilia in Comedy of Errors (2018 First Encounters production) Credit: Sam Allard / RSC

The Royal Shakespeare Company is to bring its First Encounters with Shakespeare production of The Merchant of Venice to North East schools and theatres in October.

The First Encounters series is aimed at 7- to 13-year-olds and will feature members of the Next Generation ACT company playing Jessica and Lorenzo. Next Generation ACT is made up of young people under the age of 18 who show a talent for performance but who would not necessarily have the opportunity to develop it. The young people are drawn from each of the English regions, and, as the production makes its way around the country, where possible, the roles of Jessica and Lorenzo will be performed by two young people local to that area.

This year's First Encounters, produced in partnership with Adobe, will include a digital learning experience for the first time. These edited versions of the plays, performed using Shakespeare's original language, have been used by over 100,000 people to date and will now equip teachers with resources to teach Shakespeare using Adobe Spark and Creative Cloud.

Directed and edited by Robin Belfield, the production will open in September 2019 in Midlands schools and the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon before embarking on a six-week national tour of schools and regional theatres. Although primarily aimed at 7- to13-year-olds, the production can be enjoyed by all ages.

The North East performances will be in at The Sacred Heart Catholic High School on 15 October at 1:30 (schools performance) and 6:00PM (public performance) and on 16 October at 1:15 (schools performance) and 6:00 (public performance), moving to Northern Stage on 17 October at 1:30, 18 October at 10:30 and 19 October at 10:30 and 2:00 (all public performances).

The company will then move on to Middlesbrough at the Macmillan Academy on 21 October at 1:15 (schools performance) and 7:00 (public performance) and on 22 October at 1:15 (schools performance).

Robin Belfield is the RSC's Young People's Performance Developer. As creative lead for the Associate Schools programme, he is responsible for working with the RSC's partner schools and theatre partners to create performance opportunities for young people across the country.

Prior to working at the RSC, he was a freelance theatre director and education practitioner working for many major theatre companies and arts organisations including the National Theatre, Nuffield Southampton Theatres, Bristol Old Vic, Theatre Royal Bath, Watermill Theatre (Newbury) and The Dukes Theatre (Lancaster). He has also worked extensively in a number of the UK's major drama schools including Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Oxford School of Drama and Bristol Old Vic Theatre School.

Last year, he wrote his first book Telling the Truth: How to Make Verbatim Theatre, a practical handbook for teachers and theatre professionals, published by Nick Hern Books.

"Set against the commercial backdrop of Venice,” Belfield said, “Shakespeare's play presents a world where business interests collide with personal ambitions and prejudices. The Merchant of Venice asks some very challenging questions, especially for audiences today—questions about the way we live, work and behave with people of different faiths and cultures. At the heart of the play are two young people, Jessica and Lorenzo, about to make some huge choices that will affect their lives forever. It seemed fitting then that these characters be played by young people, and who better than our terrifically talented young company, Next Generation ACT."