In Shakespeare’s day, troupes of professional actors roamed the countryside staging plays wherever they landed. Bell Shakespeare has its own ensemble of travelling actors – The Players – who travel the country performing in schools and community centres delivering accessible and engaging Shakespeare performances to students from Year 2 to Year 12. In May, we hit the road with The Players for a very special week of performances supported by the Scully Fund, beginning in Mallacoota VIC and making our way up the coast back to Sydney. This tour was originally meant to take place in mid-2020 in the aftermath of the devastating summer bushfires, but was derailed due to COVID-19, so it was particularly special that we were finally able to visit this region that had suffered so many challenges in 2020.
My role as Marketing and Communications Executive at Bell Shakespeare is largely office-based – I was very excited to be able to join The Players for this special week to see their work and impact in person. Here are just a few snapshots from this very special tour…
The Players arrive in Mallacoota on Sunday evening after a day of driving from Sydney. After a quiet Monday morning the first show of the week is Such Sweet Sorrow at Mallacoota P-12 College. The performance follows the story of Romeo and Juliet from first meeting to their tragic conclusion, and the audience of secondary students are enthralled. Post-performance a teacher delivered his own rousing rendition of Macbeth’s soliloquy “Macbeth doth murder sleep” and blew everyone away.
In the evening there is a community performance of Just Romeo and Juliet! It’s rare to have the opportunity to do community shows on tour and exciting to perform to a room of both adults and children. Just Romeo and Juliet! is the primary school show but is always a hit with adults too. It’s fast and funny, with a healthy dose of slapstick and more Shakespeare puns than you can imagine! The audience love it and our volunteer performers from the audience are superstars.
On Tuesday we drive to Eden for two shows at Eden Marine High School and a performance at Eden Public School. Today The Players perform all three shows – Just Romeo and Juliet!, Such Sweet Sorrow and Macbeth: The Rehearsal. It’s a busy day jumping between sets, characters and plays. Before each show starts The Players have a fight warm up to make sure they have the choreography down. To add to the drama, it’s torrentially raining, and we are treated to free thunderclaps to accompany the performance of Macbeth: The Rehearsal. Everyone sleeps soundly tonight.
On Wednesday The Players perform Just Romeo and Juliet! for Quaama Public School. Quaama is a gorgeous, small town with a population of just 280 and we are lucky to perform in the community hall across the road . The entire primary school is in attendance and shrieks of delight and cackles of laughter fill the hall. Next up is Narooma for a performance of Such Sweet Sorrow at the local high school. We are done by 3pm and head for a walk around town – over the course of their 6-month tour The Players travel all over the country and it’s nice to be able to explore the community when they have time in their schedule.
Thursday is another three-show day with a performance at Moruya Public School and two at Batemans Bay High School. On Friday there are three performances of Just Romeo and Juliet! In this show students are encouraged to ‘audition’ for the play and at Ulladulla Public School two students give us powerful and dramatic takes on Hamlet’s “to be or not to be.” The day comes to an end and we hop in the car to drive back to Sydney.
Tour life is busy with early wake-up calls and coffee runs, but performing to young people in their schools is energising. A lot of the students have rarely seen live theatre and many have never seen Shakespeare performed live and it’s thrilling to see an entire audience of Year 3 students boldly ask “did my heart love till now?” These works are so familiar to so many of us, it’s exciting to be in the same room when new audiences encounter them for the first time.
A tally of the week
- 1,200kms driven
- 9 schools and one community hall
- 7 performances of Just Romeo and Juliet!
- 4 performances of Such Sweet Sorrow
- 2 performances of Macbeth: The Rehearsal
Words by Jennifer McGrath
The Players are touring across Australia until the end of Term 3. Find out when they’ll be in your area here.