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Activist Shakespeare

Activist Shakespeare

Community, ecology and adaptation

Shakespeare is the most performed playwright on the planet and his plays continue to help us understand historical and contemporary social issues. Dr Paul Prescott has initiated a range of projects with theatre companies serving under-represented communities, using Shakespeare to articulate the urgency of climate breakdown. In doing so, he has built new partnerships with theatre companies and environmental groups across the UK, USA and globally.

The challenge

We are in the midst of a climate emergency. Through adaptations of Shakespeare plays, Dr Prescott is raising vital awareness of the need for action. His work has challenged ideas of who gets to make theatre and created socially conscious adaptations of Shakespeare’s work, at a time of heightened social and environmental change. Through collaborations and practice-as-research projects, Dr Prescott’s work has demonstrated the continuing cultural force of Shakespeare’s works in uncertain times.

Our approach

As a practitioner-scholar, Dr Prescott has led a number of projects in the UK and US, including:

  • “Shakespeare on the Road” (2014- ) which partnered the University of Warwick, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and 14 Shakespeare festivals across the length and breadth of the US. This project created an oral history archive, led to a number of creative collaborations, and raised public awareness of the pivotal (and contested) role Shakespeare plays in modern American culture

  • ‘Festival Shakespeare” (2012- ): Scholarly collections, articles and websites relating to the history and function of Shakespeare Festivals around the world, including the first ever analysis of the links between Shakespeare and the Olympic spirit as manifested in the World Shakespeare Festival that accompanied the 2012 London Olympics.

  • Eco-Shakespeare (2016- ): A new annual festival co-founded (with Dr Katie Brokaw of UC Merced, California), ‘Shakespeare in Yosemite’, in which heavily adapted versions of Shakespeare’s texts are offered free to audiences in Yosemite National Park. These adaptations bring the environmental themes in Shakespeare’s work to the fore, and integrate research from climate scientists and conservation groups.

Our impact

Dr Prescott’s work is changing how practitioners and audiences think of Shakespeare’s plays in a modern context. His projects have united theatre companies and institutions across the Atlantic and transnationally. The ‘Shakespeare on the Road’ project resulted in the creation of a freely accessible online oral history of Shakespeare festivals around the US for use by theatre practitioners and audiences. Classic FM also featured the project as the subject of a two-hour documentary.In collaboration with Dr Katie Brokaw (University of California, Merced), Prescott created the annual Shakespeare in Yosemite festival, working with professional actors, students and Park Rangers to produce a Shakespeare-inspired play in the national park. The performances brought new audiences into Yosemite and changed the way regular visitors thought of the space. Each production allowed the park authorities to highlight a key environmental theme, such as the need to reduce plastic use.

Moving forward, Dr Prescott has helped to found the EarthShakes Alliance. This is a global alliance of Shakespeare theatres and festivals who aim to use their work to react to the ecological crisis. Each has committed to putting environmental concerns at the heart of their theatre-making by making energy efficiencies and foregrounding the ecological dimensions of Shakespeare’s texts in their productions.

Four centuries after Shakespeare's death, Dr Prescott is helping to make sure that his works make a difference to how modern audiences, artists and activists illuminate the challenges of today.

Read more about the successful performances in Yosemite National Park

Visit the dedicated site for 'Shakespeare On The Road'

What is research impact?

Discover why it matters

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Explore other work from English and Comparative Literary Studies at Warwick