Cyclone Rep’s Shakespeare Sessions – celebrating 10 years of Theatre-in-Education

Guest report by Edel Carmody, Cyclone Rep Theatre Company 

This year marks the tenth anniversary since the creation of Cyclone Rep’s Shakespeare Sessions. Cyclone Rep is Ireland’s leading Shakespearean Theatre-in-Education Company. We are also (as far as we know) the only repertory company in Ireland. 

The inspiration for Cyclone’s hugely successful take on Shakespeare’s texts stems from Artistic Director Peadar Donohoe’s years as a drama coach in Cork. His approach to theatre was and still is deeply influenced by Antonin Artaud’s “Theatre of Cruelty”. Breaking the fourth wall, audience interaction, and heightened physicality are all integral components of Cyclone’s performance style. Using these elements Cyclone achieves their mission to provide secondary school audiences with an exciting and multi-faceted theatrical experience that engages, entertains and educates.

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Cyclone Rep’s “King Lear”    Image credit: Shane Vaughan

The Shakespeare Sessions are abridged versions of the plays that stay true to the language and spirit of Shakespearean theatre. Cyclone’s approach to Theatre-in-Education is highly collaborative and constantly takes on board audience and stakeholders’ feedback. A typical Shakespeare Session includes everything from a sword fight between an actor and a student to nuanced discussions of challenging themes such as madness, gender, or racism.

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Cyclone Rep’s “Hamlet”      Image credit: Shane Vaughan

Each year the company tours a number of Shakespeare plays in repertory. The 2019-2020 season sees four plays being toured: Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, King Lear and Hamlet. Marcus Bale, the company manager, estimates that by May 2020, over 31,000 individuals nationwide will have experienced this season’s sessions. Marcus, who plays both Hamlet and Shylock, is an internationally trained actor whose focus for the last 20 years has been the physical theatrical techniques of Commedia dell’Arte, Mime, Clown, Improvisation, and the work of Jacques Lecoq, Eugenio Barba, and Augusto Boal, and these practices have been incorporated into the Cyclone Rep’s style of performance.

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Cyclone Rep’s “Hamlet”      Image credit: Shane Vaughan

Also, true to 16th century performance tradition is the use of gender-swapped roles. Cyclone plays constantly with this tradition. In Cyclone’s Romeo and Juliet Session, Leah Wood plays Tybalt, while Kieran O’Leary plays The Nurse. Since Shakespeare’s time, his plays have undergone numerous iterations from a Soviet-styled Macbeth to Julius Caesar with an all-female cast. Engaging with this long-standing tradition, Cyclone has re-imagined Shakespeare’s work while staying true to key themes and interpretations. For example, The King Lear Session tackles the theme (central to the play) of nature run amok by setting the play in a post-apocalyptic world caused by climate change. During The Hamlet Session different interpretations surrounding the theme of madness are discussed by the cast with the audience. The Romeo and Juliet Session explores gender and sexuality, and even features Shakespeare himself (played by Mike Keep). When the Bard himself is transplanted into our modern age, he is forced to grapple with how both theatre and the role of women in the public sphere has changed. 

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Cyclone Rep’s Shakespeare in “Romeo and Juliet”           Image credit: Shane Vaughan

Thanks to audience feedback the Shakespeare Sessions have evolved greatly since 2010.In Cyclone’s first production of King Lear in 2015 the characters of Kent and the Fool were merged (this was done to allow for a five-member cast). However, students found this conflation confusing and teachers voiced this issue. So, Cyclone’s second production of The King Lear Session featured six actors and the characters of Kent and Fool were played by two different actors. 

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Ophelia in Cyclone Rep’s “Hamlet”           Image credit: Shane Vaughan

Beginning in 2010, during The Hamlet Session the main female characters are questioned by the male characters in a mock interrogation scene. Audiences liked this technique so much, that the latest production of The Hamlet Session similarly acts out an interrogation of the male characters’ motives and culpability. Ongoing feedback from teachers and students helps us to constantly incorporate and expand on aspects of the plays that young people and teachers feel are relevant today. Equally, the role of audio-visual aids has grown considerably since our inception. Initially the use of these projections was minimal but this has changed due to audience demand. Now audio-visuals are an integral part of the sessions, and we use a whole range of these, from animations, mind maps, and bullet points clarifying key ideas to rap versions of 16th century poetry and Joy Division songs.

For a decade, Cyclone Rep has been committed to bringing Shakespeare to life for young people nationwide in fresh and creative ways. Since 2010, over 200,000 young people have seen Cyclone’s Shakespeare Sessions. Thus, it is fair to say that in some measure, Cyclone is helping building Ireland’s next generation of theatregoers.

More information can be found on the Cyclone Rep website, along with booking details for upcoming productions (listed below).

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Guest report by Edel Carmody, Cyclone Rep Theatre Company 

Study day: ‘NETWORKS’ Ormond Courtiers and Kilkenny Merchants in the 16th Century – October 2019

[From eventbrite website]

This October, Kilkenny Castle will host a Study Day that seeks to highlight information concerning the extensive network of connections that the earls of Ormond had with their counterparts at the English Court and further afield and to explore the impact of such cultural proximity on their patronage of the arts during the early modern period c.1490–1614. It will also feature information about Kilkenny merchant families and their buildings, their connections with fellow merchants in Bristol, Antwerp and elsewhere.

The event takes place on Friday 11th and Saturday 12th October 2019.

It is a ticketed event, see the eventbrite website for tickets and more info.

Study Day Programme

Day 1: Friday 11th October

16.00 A walking tour, commencing at Kilkenny Castle, of the late Medieval Houses and Inns of Kilkenny led by Amanda Pitcairn MA (Independent tour guide).

16.45 Visit to Rothe House, Kilkenny (Courtesy Kilkenny Archaeological Society), A tour of the house and garden.

17.30–18.00 Walk back to castle visiting St. Mary’s Church (Renamed The Medieval Mile Museum Courtesy of Kilkenny Civic Trust) on the way.

18.30 Launch of Weekend programme;

ACADEMIC SESSION 1 – The Town. Chair: Mary Heffernan, (Manager, Dublin Castle, National Historic Properties, OPW). Papers will be followed by a Q&A.

18.45 Dr. Maurice Hurley, The Kilkenny Merchant’s House – the Irish Urban context.

19.25 Julian Munby BA FSA (Oxford). From Kilkenny to Bristol and back: new work on the Liber Primus of Kilkenny.

RECEPTION

Day 2: Saturday 12th October

09.30 Registration, The Parade Tower Kilkenny Castle

ACADEMIC SESSION 2 – The Merchants. Chair: Conleth Manning (Independent)

10.00 Dr. Linda Doran (University College Dublin): William Marshall and the establishment of the port of New Ross.

10.30 Dr. Susan Flavin (University of Dublin, Trinity College): Commodities and Commerce: Kilkenny Merchants and the Sixteenth-Century Consumer Boom.

11.15 Coffee

ACADEMIC SESSION 3 – The Earls of Ormond. Chair: Ben Murtagh MA MIAI (Archaeological and Historic Building Consultant)

11.35 Keynote speaker: Dr. David Edwards (University College Cork) The earls of Ormond and the Kilkenny civic elite.

12.15 Dr. Jane Fenlon: Courtiers and Merchants; Display and Magnificence in the waning middle ages.

12.45 Dr. Danielle O’Donovan (Nano Nagle Place, Cork): Petrified Affinity – Architecture, Sculpture and the Ormond Affinity in Late Medieval Kilkenny and Tipperary.

13.30 LUNCH (self catering in town)

ACADEMIC SESSION 4 – Memorials. Chair: Dolores Gaffney (OPW, Kilkenny Castle)

14.30 Dr. Amy Harris (Independent) Merchant tombs in St. Mary’s – the Merchant’s Church, Kilkenny.

15.00 Dr. Oliver D. Harris, University College, London: Lines of Descent: Genealogical imagination and creativity: The Lumley and Carew monuments.

15.45 TEA

16.00 Conleth Manning: overview of papers, summing up and discussion.

[From eventbrite website]