Human language

PM Jacinda Ardern says funding for Shakespeare school festival will continue

File photo. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern
Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said funding for a school Shakespeare program will continue, coming after Creative New Zealand turned it down.

Shakespeare Globe Center New Zealand’s request for $31,000 was declined by Creative New Zealand, which said “the proposal failed to demonstrate relevance to the context of contemporary art in Aotearoa at this time, place and in this landscape”.

The center is the origin of the annual Sheilah Winn Shakespeare Festival, where high schools in Aotearoa perform scenes from the bard’s plays.

Some 120,000 students have performed at the festival since 1991.

Creative New Zealand’s decision led to accusations that it was trying to “cancel” Shakespeare, although it said other proposals simply better aligned with its priorities.

Ardern had previously said she disagreed with Creative New Zealand’s decision, telling Morning Report that she was not one of the independent funding agency’s decision makers and that she did not agree. would not always agree with all decisions.

She revealed today that she is committed to ensuring the program continues and acknowledged the significant level of interest in the saga.

“I spoke to our Minister of Education, and he spoke with his ministry.

“The Department for Education intends to contact the Shakespeare Globe Center to work with them to find a solution to ensure that the program will continue to be offered to schools.”

Ardern said she expected to share more details about a final resolution, but felt the Department of Education was the most sensible place for this program to be offered.

“We will not always agree with every decision made by an independent agency. I was struck by the fact that this is actually one of those situations where it suits the education of any person the most. way. So we found a solution and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Mahanga Mitchell
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Māhanga Mitchell, a student actor whose life was transformed, first discovering Shakespeare as a 13th year student, then later performing in King Lear at the Globe in London, had also followed the controversy.

He said the events of the high school festival changed the trajectory of his life within a year.

“I went from not knowing what I was going to do once I left school, maybe go to work, to ‘I want to go to Wellington to get a degree and I’m going to London’.”

He said he understood why some thought the work of a white Briton from the 1500s might not seem relevant, but that was not how he appeared to actors on the show.

“I feel like that’s the whole point of playing Shakespeare, modernizing it and customizing our performance to incorporate our own themes and ideas, not those of colonial and imperialist attitude.”

Not having the curriculum would be a lost opportunity for people like him who come from small rural communities, he said.

“If I could help someone else on the same journey as me, then yes, absolutely, I would.”

Author and high school teacher Tania Roxborogh said morning report that questioning Shakespeare’s relevance in the 21st century has missed the point of why he is taught in educational settings.

“As an English teacher and former drama teacher, I consider Shakespeare an example of the best of English literature and yes, his works were used, I think, as a tool of the colonizer.

“The two texts that the missionaries brought were the King James version and The Complete Works of William Shakespeareand I don’t think many of us will want to get rid of the Bible too.”

The use of language, imagery, commentary on human nature, dramatic form and stories in literature were why students should be exposed to Shakespeare, she said.

Roxborogh studied te reo Māori and said it was important when studying a language to understand its best literary works.

“If I want to improve my understanding of how a language is used, I look at kōrero tuku iho, I look at mōteatea and whakataukī and the origins of those whakatauukī and whakatauākī, I look at the best that language has to offer.”

Literature could be seen through the lens of the Māori kaupapa, she said.

This was epitomized by the production of the 2002 film The Maori Merchant of Venice produced by Don Selwyn, she said.

“We can look at Shakespeare and we do so through a kaupapa Māori lens, …a Pacific Island lens, the same way as with The Merchant of Venice, we now look at it, read it, think about it through a post-holocaust lens.”

She said people who challenged the relevance of Shakespearean literature in a “decolonization of Aotearoa” had not experienced the joy rangatahi found in studying and performing it at the Sheilah Winn Shakespeare Festival.