Directors and actors take to open letter to question National Youth Theatre’s cancellation of Homegrown

Following the controversial cancellation of the National Youth Theatre production Homegrown amid concerns it would promote radicalisation, theatre directors, actors and writers have taken to an open letter to express their disappointment and confusion.

The letter, published in the Times, is part of an ongoing battle to get to the root of the sudden cancellation of a play intended to break down the barriers of censorship. As explored in two previous Teaching Drama articles (4 June and 18 August), the play, which explored the reasons behind homegrown radicalisation, was due to open on 12 August, but was pulled just days before by NYT.

Director Nadia Latif and writer Omar El-Khairy had been forced to relocate the production after Tower Hamlets council informed them the school venue was inappropriately close to the Bethnal Green school attended by Shamima Begum, Amira Abase and Kadiza Sultana, who are thought to have fled to Syria to become jihadi brides earlier this year. Following that, Latif and El-Khairy were warned that Metropolitan Police were considering planting plain clothed officers in the audience, though this is denied by the Met.

The open letter, which can be seen below, is the beginning of a larger argument against theatre censorship, a subject we will be exploring in our Autumn 2 edition of Teaching Drama.

Why was the National Youth Theatre’s production of Homegrown, a new play about radicalisation, suddenly cancelled?

Sir, The abrupt cancellation of the National Youth Theatre’s production of Homegrown is a troubling moment for British theatre and freedom of expression. The play seeks to examine radicalisation and disaffection among British youth. Its cancellation serves only to shut down conversation on these important issues. We fear that government policy in response to extremism may be creating a culture of caution in the arts.

We are deeply concerned by reports that the NYT may have been put under external pressure to change the location and then cancel the production. Police, local authorities and arts organisations have a duty to respect and protect freedom of expression — even, and most especially, where they disagree with the message or find it controversial.

We urge the NYT to give a full account of what led to the decision, and hope that a way can be found to stage it so that the young voices involved can be heard and the production can be judged on its merits.

Maureen Freely, president, English PEN

Jodie Ginsberg, chief executive, Index on Censorship

Jo Glanville, director, English PEN

Shami Chakrabarti, director, Liberty

Anish Kapoor, artist

Anneliese Davidsen, executive director, Unicorn Theatre

Christopher Haydon, artistic director, Gate Theatre

Sir David Hare, playwright

David Lan, artistic director, Young Vic

Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, playwright

Heydon Prowse, actor

Jolyon Rubinstein, actor

Howard Brenton, playwright

Josie Rourke, artistic director, Donmar Warehouse

Lorne Campbell, artistic director, Northern Stage

Monica Ali, writer

David Aaronovitch, chair, Index on Censorship

Nell Leyshon, playwright

Nick Williams, executive director, Actors Touring Company

Ramin Gray, artistic director, Actors Touring Company

Sabrina Mahfouz, playwright

Sarah Frankcom, artistic director, Royal Exchange Theatre Manchester

The Lion King to stage third dedicated autism-friendly performance

A third dedicated autism-friendly performance of Disney’s The Lion King has been announced to take to the stage of London’s Lyceum Theatre on 30 August at 1.30pm, following the success of the 2013 and 2014 performances.

The Lyceum Theatre, London

                    The Lyceum Theatre, London

Visiting the theatre for someone with autism can be frightening and stressful; it’s common for people with the condition to find sudden changes in environment or routine extremely distressing, with sensory issues, such as background noise or bright lights, being intrusive and potentially painful.

As a result, visiting a musical as globally successful as The Lion King in London’s busiest theatre can be understandably overwhelming to a large number of people with the condition, and this is why the show is now being staged especially for people with autism in dedicated performances for the third time.

The adapted performances include modifications to the entire theatre experience, including:

  • Designated quiet and activity areas in the foyer, staffed by experts in autism in case anyone needs to leave their seats
  • Adjustments to the performance itself, such as sounds that may cause distress or strobe lighting that faces the audience
  • The cast, crew, and Lyceum Theatre box office and front of house staff have been trained to better understand the needs of an audience containing people with autism spectrum disorder
  • A dedicated autism-friendly website and booking system has been set up, which includes a downloadable ‘social story’ to further help the ease at which people with the condition can comprehend the theatre experience, from arriving in the foyer to the final curtain call, thus reducing anxiety and stress

For tickets and more information, friends and families can visit: http://www.lionkingautismfriendly.co.uk, where tickets are sold at a specially discounted rate and can be selected on a virtual map of the auditorium.

Ria Parry to direct world premiere of Jane Wenham: The Witch of Walkern

Ria Parry, whose past productions include Mad About the Boy and Caryl Churchill’s Fen, will direct the world premiere of Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s Jane Wenham: The Witch of Walkern. Due to tour from September to November 2015, it will also play at London’s Arcola Theatre in January 2016.

Director Ria Parry. Credit: Lydia Stamps

Director Ria Parry. Credit: Lydia Stamps

Inspired by a Hertfordshire village in 1712, the play centres around the title character as she is blamed for a tragic death and charged with witchcraft after decades free from witch hunts. As the village is torn between those wanting to save her life and those claiming they want to rescue her soul, Lenkiewicz’s play will immerse the audience in society’s hunger to find – and create – witches in the village of Walkern.
Originally a research workshop supported by the University of Hertfordshire (an Out of Joint Associate University) and the National Theatre Studio, the idea was borne out of the true story of Jane Wenham, the last woman in England to be convicted of witchcraft.
Of the play, Max Stafford Clark said: ‘I heard the story of Jane Wenham when I was teaching at the University of Hertfordshire, and I met a historian, Owen Davies, who specialises in the modern history of witchcraft. He joined Rebecca and me and a team of actors for a two week workshop at the National Theatre Studio, and also out researching in Hertfordshire. From Jane Wenham’s sad story, Rebecca has created a haunting and resonant play, rooted in history yet full of her own rich invention. I can’t wait to see it brought to the stage by Ria Parry, whose previous successes include what many thought one of the finest productions of Caryl Churchill’s – Fen, and two Fringe First-winning plays.’
The cast includes David Acton, Judith Coke and Tim Delap.

Unicorn Theatre reports fall in visits from school groups

The Unicorn Theatre, one of the UK’s leading theatres dedicated to producing work for young people, has reported a six per cent drop in school group visits during the period from August 2014 to June 2015, compared to the previous year. The theatre has also experienced an increase in cancellations from school groups.

Credit: Manuel Harlan

Credit: Manuel Harlan

Unicorn’s learning associate Catherine Greenwood said in response to the figures: ‘We are hearing from some teachers and head teachers that they are finding it increasingly difficult to justify the time out of the classroom. With schools facing cuts to budgets in the next financial year, and with the government recently announcing plans to make the Ebacc compulsory in all schools, this situation will only get worse.’
The Warwick Report, published in February this year, found that young people from low-income families are least likely to engage with and appreciate the arts as part of the school curriculum or their home life. Greenwood thinks there is a ‘serious danger’ that the current climate will create a ‘two-tier system:  those schools who choose to make the arts available to their students and those who don’t.’ Greenwood believes that letting such a system take hold would be ‘failing many young people.’
‘We need schools, head teachers and governing bodies to actively redress this imbalance if we are to ensure students from all backgrounds have access to theatre. A visit to the theatre can provide schools with a rich context for learning across the curriculum – which many teachers take advantage of, and we have first-hand experience showing that it improves literacy and learning among less able students in particular.’

Drama Online to partner with award-winning audio drama company LA Theatre Works

Drama Online, an award-winning study resource originally created by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc and Faber and Faber, has announced its partnership with LA Theatre Works. The non-profit organisation features audio content as performed by the likes of Hilary Swank, Alfred Molina and Mark Ruffalo and boasts a worldwide audience through international broadcasters: the BBC, Voice of America and Radio Beijing among them.
The partnership comes with the promise that Drama Online users around the world will now have access to audio productions from LA Theatre Works, which features audio versions of 350 classic and contemporary plays, from The Crucible to The Importance of Being Earnest, all available for institutional purchase or subscription through Drama Online.
Jenny Ridout, Editorial Director for Drama Online at Bloomsbury, said of the partnership: ‘LA Theatre Works provides an unrivalled collection of audio recordings of key canonical and contemporary works by leading playwrights performed by prominent actors. It adds real depth and dynamism to the resource. We are delighted to be working with such a high quality content partner, especially one that is so focused on educational needs.’

LA Theatre Works cover of bestseller The Crucible

LA Theatre Works cover of bestseller The Crucible

‘This is an exciting new stage of our reach and growth,’ added Susan Albert Loewenberg, Founder and Producing Director of LA Theatre Works, ‘We continue to increase our global accessibility through this partnership. Our mission is to create superb performances of great dramatic literature, and what better place to make these titles available than through Drama Online?’
Already a source of over 1200 play texts from Methuen Drama, Arden Shakespeare and Faber, 700 images from the Victoria and Albert Museum and American Shakespeare Centre, and a growing list of scholarly works, users of Drama Online will now also benefit from video content, coming later in the year.

Sir Tim Rice awarded Honorary Doctorate of Arts

Sir Tim Rice, known for his award-winning collaborations with Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, has been awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Arts by Leeds Beckett University for his contribution to the industry. Having co-written renowned musicals such as Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita with Lloyd Webber, as well as working on Walt Disney film soundtracks The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, it’s no wonder Rice is considered an asset to the arts.

After receiving his award, Rice said: ‘I am very honoured to be given any award at all in any circumstance and one from such a distinguished university is terrific.’ Vice Chancellor of Leeds Beckett University, Professor Susan Price, said of Rice: ‘[he] is an inspiration and prolific figure in the history of British music and theatre. It was a delight to welcome him to our Headingley Campus and to recognise his enormous contribution to music and the arts.’

Rice and Lloyd Webber with their Academy Awards

Rice and Lloyd Webber with their Academy Awards

Though he originally planned a career as a solicitor, Rice became a management trainee at EMI records in 1965, and not long after that he met fellow struggling songwriter Lloyd Webber. Of his career, Sir Tim said: ‘I never really thought about going into the theatre world when I was young, I didn’t know much about the theatre but I knew a little bit about musicals from my parent’s record collection. It was through meeting Andrew Lloyd Webber really. I was writing pop songs, he was trying to write theatre stuff, our paths crossed and we decided to go for his idea, which was very sensible because we would never have been better than the Beatles or the Rolling Stones but there was nobody doing what we were trying to do.’
An indisputable genius, Rice was knighted for his services to music in 1994, boasts a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and has received top industry accolades, including Academy and Tony Awards.
His acknowledgement of recent cuts to arts funding came through in his advice for graduating arts students: ‘You’ve got to be quite enthusiastic about your job, there’s no point in doing something you don’t like.’ He added: ‘If you are genuinely interested in the arts, even if you don’t think you have an incredible basic talent, there are so many things you can do that aren’t actually being an artist; you can be behind the scenes which doesn’t involve getting up on the stage or painting. It’s the people behind the scenes that make the most money.’

National Youth Theatre pulls controversial ISIS play at last minute

A brand new play, due to open on 12 August, was pulled by the National Youth Theatre just days before the first night. Homegrown, which followed the lives of three Bethnal Green girls believed to have left school to travel to Syria in February, was directed by Nadia Latif and written by Omar El-Khairy, both of whom claim NYT were aware of the subject of the play from the start.

The cast of Homegrown were distraught by the news (Credit: Helen Maybanks/National Youth Theatre)

The cast of Homegrown were distraught by the news (Credit: Helen Maybanks/National Youth Theatre)

The production, which was to feature a 112-strong cast between the ages of 15 and 25, was originally supposed to be performed at Raines Foundation Upper School, less than a mile from the Bethnal Green school attended by Shamima Begum, Amira Abase and Kadiza Sultana, the three girls said to have journeyed to Syria to become jihadi brides.

Latif and El-Khairy experienced their first hurdle in June when they were forced to relocate to UCL academy in Swiss Cottage after Tower Hamlets council expressed concern that the subject matter might be ‘insensitive.’ A spokeswoman for the council added: ‘The school was not aware of the subject of the play when they agreed to lease the premises. Once they became aware, they decided that it would not be appropriate to rent their premises to the National Youth Theatre.’

Following the move, which affected the site-specific nature of the play, Latif and El-Khairy claimed that in late July they were warned that Metropolitan Police wanted to see a copy of the script and were considering planting plain clothed officers in the audience. The proposition came as a shock to the pair, with El-Khairy adding that ‘we don’t know where that came from or who led the conversation.’ Conversely, the Metropolitan Police deny any involvement with the play or intended venue.
Despite previous difficulties, the cast and crew were looking forward to a ‘kaleidoscopic exploration of the treatment of homegrown radicalisation,’ as put by Latif, but the pair were emailed by NYT on the Thursday before it was due to open and the cast were informed on the Friday morning.

While NYT has refused to comment on censorship, El-Khairy said: ‘Voices have been silenced here, there is no doubt about that and I just feel like in order to make the decision to cancel it, something very extreme must have happened.’ Some of the young actors scheduled to star in the show took to social media to voice their distress, with David Hall Tweeting, ‘I don’t know how anything can ever change when we are too scared to say the things that need to be said.’

You can view our previous story about the release of Homegrown here: https://wordpress.com/post/25538237/1551/

EBacc to return to secondary education

The EBacc, or English Baccalaureate, is due to make a return this September after it was scrapped in 2013 to make way for ‘a more balanced and meaningful accountability system,’ as previously proposed by Michael Gove, former Secretary of State for Education.

The EBacc is set to affect students nationwide

The EBacc is set to affect students nationwide

Intended to further control compulsory GCSE subjects in state secondary schools, the plan features an alarming lack of acknowledgement of the arts. Previously a method for ranking schools on a league table depending on pupil merit in ‘core academic subjects’ (maths, English, sciences, languages, and history or geography), the EBacc excludes arts subjects altogether, signifying that the Department for Education does not consider them reliable indicators of a good education.

Despite an increase in students taking arts subjects since the plan was overturned two years ago, the Department for Education has returned to introducing a compulsory list of GCSE subjects, with current Secretary of State for Education Nicky Morgan confirming that ‘every child starting in year 7 in September will be expected to study core academic subjects that make up the EBacc right up to GCSE.’ This is in spite of Christine Blower of the National Union of Teachers describing the EBacc as a ‘narrow vision for education which constricts the curriculum and fails to meet the needs and aspirations of many young people.’

Following the announcement, cross-sector campaign Bacc for the Future is fighting to make the Department for Education rethink its motives and ensure that creative subjects are equally accountable in school rankings. They argue that there will be less encouragement and support around the arts, ultimately having a knock-on effect on the creative industries, which contribute £76.9bn to the UK economy every year.

The EBacc is forseen to cause a drop in students taking arts subjects

The EBacc is forseen to cause a drop in students taking arts subjects

Bacc for the Future is supported by a range of arts figureheads, including Cog Design founder Michael Smith, who said that the ‘marginalisation of arts subjects indicates a lack of understanding of their vital role in our education ecology.’ Similarly, Neil Constable, Chief Executive of Shakespeare’s Globe said: ‘The Government proudly cites the UK creative industries as world leaders, one of the fastest growing sectors, providing £8.8m an hour to our economy. Yet it proposes to impose the EBacc on schools which will starve the industry of fresh talent, stunt the growth of our young people and make us all the poorer.’

The campaign aims to raise awareness surrounding the importance of arts-based subjects, including music, drama and art. Indeed, as pointed out by Rachel Tackley, Director of the English Touring Theatre: ‘Sophocles said: “Whoever neglects the arts when he is young has lost the past and is dead to the future.”’

Free tickets to all London and Birmingham secondary schools for 2016’s Playing Shakespeare

"Playing Shakespear with Deutsche Bank", PSWDB, at the Globe Theatre. School children get the chance to see a Shakepear play "The Merchant of Venice" performed at the Globe. Date: 12 March 2014 Photograph by Amit Lennon

Last year’s Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank production, The Merchant of Venice (Credit: Amit Lennon)

Shakespeare’s Globe has announced that 2016’s Playing Shakespeare schools’ production will be Twelfth Night, running from 25 February–18 March 2016. Secondary state schools in London and Birmingham are eligible for an unlimited number of free tickets for weekday performances at 2pm during the period 25 February–10 March, and for the 7pm performance on 1 March.

State schools outside the London and Birmingham areas, as well as independent schools and colleges, can book reduced rate tickets ranging from £5 to £15 for weekday performances at 2pm during the period 11–18 March.

Supporting the production will be free schools’ workshops, launching in December, CPD sessions for teachers, classroom resources, and a dedicated Twelfth Night website which will launch in January next year.

London, 26th February 2015: Othello at Shakespeare’s Globe, directed by Bill Buckhurst, as part of Globe Education’s Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank 2015

Othello was 2015’s Playing Shakespeare production (Credit: Cesare DeGiglio)

The play, specially designed for GCSE and A-level students, will fit the National Curriculum specification for KS3 (where students are required to study two of Shakespeare’s plays) and KS4 (where students are assessed on one of the Bard’s works).

The Playing Shakespeare initiative will celebrate its tenth anniversary in 2016. Through Globe Education’s partnership with Deutsche Bank, Playing Shakespeare has presented over 117,000 free tickets to schools, with over 70% of schools taking part from every London borough.

Booking for Playing Shakespeare’s production Twelfth Night opens in September; www.shakespearesglobe.com/playing-shakespeare.

Drama Online to add filmed theatre productions to its resource collection

The-Duchess-of-Malfi--001

Stage On Screen’s filmed production of The Duchess of Malfi will be available to watch via Drama Online from October

Drama Online, a subscription study resource available to schools, colleges and higher education institutions, is expanding its resource offering this autumn with video content. Partnerships with organisations such Shakespeare’s Globe and Stage On Screen will see more than 60 hours of material added to the site.

Drama Online’s partnership with Shakespeare’s Globe will add 21 productions to its collection, with further shows to be added. Shakespeare’s Globe’s artistic director, Dominic Dromgoole, says: ‘In Drama Online, Bloomsbury and Faber & Faber have created a fantastic portal for students, and we’re delighted that Globe productions will be some of the first video content on offer there.’

Stage On Screen will be contributing high-definition filmed productions from Greenwich Theatre of The Duchess of Malfi, Doctor Faustus, School for Scandal, and Volpone; and Manchester Royal Exchange’s Hamlet starring Maxine Peake will also feature among the new content.

As well as the filmed productions, Drama Online will be adding a six-hour Shakespeare acting masterclass with Guildhall School of Music and Drama’s head of voice Patsy Rodenburg, featuring movement, speech, body and warm-up exercises.

The new video content will be available for trial in October; for more information, visit www.dramaonlinelibrary.com.