In June 2016 I watched our country become divided. The American election followed. So much has been said. So much has been written. I have felt a deep sense of loss as our country and the world fractured.
I have been on a long journey where I have questioned the arts and myself as an artist and practitioner. Questioned what difference I can make and what the hell Shakespeare has to do with anything, especially right now.
It has, of course, much to do with everything and is more relevant than ever.
Romeo & Juliet is not just a love story. It is a moral tale of great magnitude. It is a story of a broken and fractured society where two young people die needlessly because of a lack of tolerance and inclusion. They die because they make bad choices. They die because they do not feel understood or able to influence their world. They have grown up with a background of violence and conflict. We witness a fragile hope bloom momentarily before they die. Their bad choices and their deaths are the responsibility of every adult in their society. It is a mirror in which we can see ourselves if we can face the honest truth.
I had gained people’s attention with two all-female Shakespeare’s and shone a small light on the gender inequality debate within the theatre industry and beyond. It was time now to walk the talk. A gender balanced and diverse ensemble was the next step. I also knew I wanted to continue to explore the blending of circus and theatre, of aerial work and text and that I wanted to flip the lens and rather than making a piece for adults which those as young as nine could attend I would make one for nine year olds which adults could attend. A gateway Shakespeare production. A door opener. A production for those as young as 7 and those as old man time himself. For those who love Shakespeare AND those who loathe him and those who have never been inside a theatre before and maybe do not feel they belong or question whether Shakespeare belongs to them.
I knew therefore I was planning a tour where Omidaze would come into contact with hundreds of young people across Wales. I thought if that is going to happen then I want to empower them because they are our hope. I know that young people will understand why I have chosen this text. I also know that unless our young people have the knowledge of, and access to, our power structures nothing will ever change.
And so our workshops which accompany the tour will go into schools all over Wales will do two things. We will teach young people the story of Romeo & Juliet and allow them to understand and own verse and Shakespeare’s language. Then we will ask them who holds the power in Verona and how the outcome could have been different. And then…
Then we ask them who holds the power in their country? In Wales and the UK and we will take them on a whirlwind interactive tour of our parliamentary system in Wales and the UK. They will understand the House of Commons, House of Lords AND the Welsh assembly and how they all fit together and which powers are devolved and which aren’t the story, in and why they should vote.
With this third and final part of our Shakespeare trilogy we continue to challenge who Shakespeare is for and how and where it is staged and by whom?
We will strive to change the world one young person at a time and continue to dare to ask whose culture is it anyway, who theatre and the arts are for and who defines it, who gets to shape it, make it and take part in it and be represented by it.
Romeo & Juliet – An Omidaze Productions & Wales Millennium Centre Co-Production is supported by the Arts Council of Wales, Theatr Iolo, NoFitState Circus and ArtsActive. Tour opens at Theatr Clwyd April 4 2017.
Mold Theatr Clwyd 5-8 April
Llanelli The Ffwrnes 12 April
Brecon Theatr Brycheiniog 23 April
Cardiff WMC 27 April-14 May
More info at http://www.omidaze.co.uk