Rowena Hawkins (KCL) - 2017-18 Students

Shakespeare and Global Festival Cultures

While plenty of attention has been devoted to the global dimensions of contemporary Shakespearean performance, the festival as a significant context for the dissemination of Shakespeare to worldwide audiences remains largely under-investigated.

My research, the first systematic survey and critical assessment of Shakespeare festivals across the world, will explore a two-way flow of influence. How is ‘Festival Shakespeare’ inflecting the cultural capital associated with Shakespeare across increasingly diverse and connected creative communities and their theatre audiences? And how do external funding structures and public policy affect the production and impact of ‘Festival Shakespeare’?

The central argument of my thesis, which I will test and expand through research, is that Shakespeare festivals lose an inherent radical potential to the pressures of mass-market appeal as they grow. Based upon the lifecycle metaphor which many critics employ to understand festival development, my theory has three main stages:

  1.  emergent – the early editions of a Shakespeare festival. Emergent festivals are smaller and typically showcase more experimental than classical work. E.g. York International Shakespeare Festival (established 2015).
  2. established – a growing festival that is beginning to achieve international recognition and tourism. E.g. Festiwal Szekspirowski, Gdansk, Poland (established 1993).
  3. eminent – a globally renowned festival which receives corporate sponsorship, often resulting in less radical, more conservative work. E.g. Stratford Festival, Ontario, Canada (established 1952).

Taking a case study approach I will work in archives, undertake audience research, conduct interviews with theatre makers and festival organisers, and interrogate programming, mission statements and criticism. Analysing a range of Shakespeare festivals and the productions they host in rich contexts will allow me to go beyond what has been attempted in studies to date to gain a deeper understanding of the complex Shakespeare festival phenomenon and explore the ways in which Shakespeare festivals work, entertain, and inspire.

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