Session Abstracts


KEYNOTE - Globalising students in a perfect world: how education can truly move forward

10.10 - 11.20am

Speaker: Ben Crystal
Actor, author, creative producer

Our globally-connected next generation is struggling to deal with the post-pandemic world. Perhaps we all are. We were not prepared to deal with the fallout of mass isolation, nor the loss from those years, nor the speed at which the world now turns, nor how these cumulative effects have changed us.

Our models of education often succeed in readying our children for working in the world of business, but they are failing to prepare them for living. More and more is asked of over-worked and underpaid teachers. Schools stagger under the weight of the pastoral care needed to navigate their students through to graduation. The burden is great, and the cost, if we don’t change things, may become too great to bear.

How might we re-shape education, to better prepare our younglings for global citizenship in the 21st century? How might our education systems become fairer, more inclusive and equal? How do we make our working worlds healthy and sustainable? How do we heal the cracks forming in our divisive societies? And what can we do about it now, today?

The teaching of poetry, theatre, the arts - Shakespeare! - are some of the most frequently-cut subjects. And yet these are the safe sandboxes to explore, play, and develop an emotional vocabulary. They are vital pathways for practicing conflict resolution, and the processing of grief. And they are the proving grounds for finding and speaking your truth.

Actor, author, educator, and creative producer Ben Crystal will explore ideals of how education might / could / should move forward from the Victorian past it’s been trapped in.

About Ben CrystalAbout Ben Crystal

Workshop: Live Shakespeare Rehearsal

11.30am - 12.20pm

Presenter: James Evans with The Players

Watch Bell Shakespeare’s Associate Director James Evans build a scene from the ground up with a live rehearsal of two of Shakespeare’s iconic scenes. Witness the process between director and actors as Shakespeare’s text is broken down and analysed. See literary and language techniques transform from the written page into performance choices and action.

Be a fly on the wall in this special session, where Shakespeare’s hidden stage directions will be revealed, as well as demonstrating how original text can be interpreted and presented in different ways. With live performance from The Players, attendees will get the opportunity to influence direction and performance choices.

About James EvansAbout James Evans

Performance: Shakespeare: The Human Experience

1.20 - 2.20pm

With: The Players

The Players present a special live performance of their touring schools performance, for senior students.

To this day, Shakespeare remains unrivalled in his ability to understand humanity through the characters he created. By holding up a mirror to nature, he shone a light on our glories and flaws, and explored what it means to be human.

This powerful show uses key speeches and scenes from across Shakespeare’s canon to chart representations of individual and collective human experiences. Shakespeare: The Human Experience connects our own life experiences with the universality of Shakespeare’s characters, and the wider world around them.

Traversing youthful wonder, innocence and first love, through to experiences of guilt, grief, loss, hate, prejudice, persecution, empathy, mercy, courage and rebellion, we will meet a host of characters and explore the complexities, anomalies and paradoxes of the human experience as explored by Shakespeare.

Shakespeare: The Human Experience includes extracts from The Merchant of Venice, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, The Tempest, Romeo and Juliet, the refugee speech from Sir Thomas More, and more.

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Panel: Stories from the Regional Teacher Mentorship

2.30 - 3.30pm

Facilitated by Joanna Erskine
With Regional Teacher Mentorship alumni
Supported by Teachers Mutual Bank

Bell Shakespeare’s Regional Teacher Mentorship is a program that transforms not only the teaching of Shakespeare, but a teacher’s entire attitude to their practice. Head of Education Joanna Erskine interviews alumni from the program, as they share first-hand stories of the profound impact of adapting the teaching of Shakespeare in their schools.

Shakespeare in Noongar language

3.45 - 5.00pm

Speaker: Kylie Bracknell [Kaarljilba Kaardn]

A decade after Kyle J. Morrison’s initial inspiration to present Shakespeare in the endangered Noongar language of Western Australia’s southwest, nine Noongar actors presented the premiere season of Hecate – a Noongar adaptation of Macbeth by Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company in association with Bell Shakespeare – to standing ovations at Perth Festival 2020. Along the way, three Noongar actors presented a selection of Shakespeare’s sonnets at the Globe Theatre in London, UK. Aside from the 1997 Bundjalung version of Waiting For Godot, Hecate is the only other adaptation of a work of Western theatre in one original language of Australia. Aboriginal language revitalisation is an inherently local endeavour and presenting Shakespeare in Noongar took a decade of community-focused work to develop an ensemble and community of speakers. Despite calls to embed Aboriginal languages in to the Australian curriculum, there are few resources to support this endeavour at a high school level. The impending publication of Shakespeare in the Noongar World: Hecate and selected sonnets presents an opportunity for deep engagement in an Aboriginal language and new perspectives on Shakespeare’s work refracted through a Noongar lens.

About Kylie BracknellAbout Kylie Bracknell


We Know What We Are, But Not What We May Be | Shakespeare Behind Bars Programs for At-Risk Youth

10.10 - 11.40am

Speaker: Curt L. Tofteland
Founder, Shakespeare Behind Bars
Facilitated by Paul Reichstein

All children are born innocent and uncorrupted, but some children are born into environments that are guilty and corrupt. As children age, they are shaped by the values of their birth environment, becoming mirrors of their childhood experiences. Penitentiaries, jails, and detention centres can be a dumping ground for, and epicentre of, trauma and hurt in our world. For children who find themselves contained within the boundaries of institutional correction, their innate goodness lives within them. Space must be created for that goodness to be called forth.

Shakespeare Behind Bars was founded to assist the incarcerated in finding their authentic voices through an immersive experience in Shakespeare’s original language, complex themes, and multiple meanings. Shakespeare Behind Bars is an inclusive organization that proactively enlists intentional strategies to remove barriers to access, participation, and the success of those who were historically or are currently systematically excluded or marginalized.

Curt L. Tofteland is interviewed by Bell Shakespeare artist and collaborator Paul Reichstein, to discuss his practice, process and discoveries across his career and his latest work. Tofteland will share how he engages Shakespeare’s plays with questions that reflect our priorities, confusions, uncertainties, and urgent concerns. He will discuss how and why he does not foist on marginalized communities the host of negative western values that have accumulated around Shakespeare. He will share how he produces Shakespeare that is fully alive in this present moment and rich in meaning for ourselves and our contemporary audiences. In this powerful talk, Tofteland will speak to how each day in the Shakespeare Behind Bars program, participants and facilitators ask “Why Shakespeare now?”

About Curt L. ToftelandAbout Curt L. Tofteland

Workshop: Making an Image Garden

11.50am - 12.10pm

Presenter: Huw McKinnon

Shakespeare’s plays are often difficult for students to decipher not because of the words he uses, but because of the incredible, often complex way he puts those words together. It is this heightened language that creates the most vivid possible images in the minds of his audience.

In this workshop, Bell Shakespeare’s Resident Artist in Education Huw McKinnon demonstrates a powerful exercise for unpacking, visualising and dramatising the density of imagery in Shakespeare’s writing. Using a key soliloquy, McKinnon will use an Image Garden to decode knotty metaphors and dense imagery, shedding light on a character’s state of mind and preoccupations.

About Huw McKinnonAbout Huw McKinnon

The Familiar Strange: Teaching Shakespeare’s Female Characters Today

1.10 - 2.25pm

Speaker: Dr Kate Flaherty
Senior Lecturer, English and Drama, Australian National University

In Shakespeare’s plays there are far fewer female roles than male, and female characters have less to say. Some say Shakespeare should be ‘cancelled’ for being sexist, while others wonder what the appeal is for 21st century students.

Using Lady Macbeth and Juliet as key examples, Dr Kate Flaherty invites us to take a closer look: to investigate their use of antithesis and other exquisite tricks of language to get what they want. We also ponder how Shakespeare dreamt up such powerful, articulate female characters in a time when women had almost no legal rights and little political agency. Kate will show how helping students to better understand language and historical context can break open the ‘familiar strange’ in Shakespeare’s female characters.

About Dr Kate FlahertyAbout Dr Kate Flaherty

Panel debate: Should we teach the ‘problem’ plays?

2.35 - 3.30pm

With: James Evans, Huw McKinnon, and teachers

The term ‘problem play’ is a category traditionally given to Shakespeare’s plays that do not fit neatly into a particular genre. However, are there plays in our current curricula that might be problematic for other reasons? The Taming of The Shrew, Othello, and The Merchant of Venice are examples of plays that are regularly taught in classrooms, yet are rife with controversy and complexity. Sexism, racism, misogyny, religious persecution, antisemitism – the list goes on. Are any of Shakespeare’s plays entirely innocent of controversy? This provocative panel debate will ask the big questions about how, why and if we should teach problematic plays from the canon in schools. Bell Shakespeare’s James Evans and Huw McKinnon will be joined by teachers in this spirited conversation.

About James EvansAbout James Evans

About Huw McKinnonAbout Huw McKinnon

It is required / You do awake your faith - Approaching Shakespeare with Confidence

3.45pm - 5.00pm

Speaker: Dr Jane Montgomery Griffiths
Actor, Writer, Director, Head of the School of Performing Arts (Collarts)

Why are so many students so scared of Shakespeare? Why do they dismiss him as boring, fear him as incomprehensible, and ignore him as unrelatable? Similarly, why do so many teachers feel they have to 'translate' Shakespeare to make him understandable? Shakespeare's language can be dense, his syntax tricky, and his allusions sometimes abstruse, but maybe facing these difficulties head on, rather than trying to find a way around them, can offer us positive, vibrant and exciting ways to teach his plays. In this talk, actor and academic Dr Jane Montgomery Griffiths talks about her experiences of teaching school and university students how to perform Shakespeare and overcome their fear by awakening their faith in the affective power of language and rhythm.

Dr Jane Montgomery Griffiths is Head of the School of Performing Arts at Collarts (The Australian College of the Arts).

About Dr Jane Montgomery GriffithsAbout Dr Jane Montgomery Griffiths