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Bringing Shakespeare to New Audiences

Shakespeare in Performance: Bringing Shakespeare to new audiences

Training Practitioners and Developing Educational Resources

Dr Stephen Purcell and Professor Carol Rutter’s research and expertise in Shakespeare in performance have informed and developed contemporary productions of Shakespeare’s plays across the world, changed the ways audiences engage with live performances and developed new educational resources informing the teaching of Shakespeare internationally. As Co-Artistic Director of The Pantaloons Theatre Company, Dr Purcell’s touring productions have brought Shakespeare to new, local audiences and Professor Rutter’s work with writers, directors and cultural agencies has underpinned celebrated Shakespeare events in the UK and beyond. Their work has enabled audiences old and new to experience Shakespeare differently.

The challenge

Shakespeare in performance can often seem inaccessible to modern audiences. Performed in grand venues and using difficult language, performances of Shakespeare’s plays risk becoming inaccessible to audiences and can often feel alienating to students new to his work. Professor Rutter and Dr Purcell’s work with theatre companies, actors and educators have brought Shakespeare in performance to new audiences and informed and developed productions of Shakespeare’s work in ways that resonate with diverse, contemporary audiences whilst retaining the power of the texts at the heart of performance.

Our approach

Dr Purcell’s research on Shakespeare and performance has explored:

  • Audience interaction

  • Theatre-as-game

  • Improvisation

He has developed a number of innovative exercises that have changed the rehearsal room practice of directors and actors, encouraging them to incorporate audience interaction and input at a much earlier stage of performance development.

A central element of Professor Rutter’s extensive research focuses on the performance of Shakespeare’s plays, both in ‘original’ conditions and subsequent productions, from the Restoration to the present. As an expert consultant to directors and actors, her research has directly underpinned numerous contemporary performances of Shakespeare’s plays across the world.

Our impact

As an Artistic Director of the Pantaloons Theatre Company, Dr Purcell’s research has informed touring productions of Shakespeare plays that incorporate clowning and audience participation, enabling audiences across the country to engage with Shakespeare in new ways.

Between 2014 and 2020, The Pantaloons performed 7 different Shakespearean plays in 236 venues from Cornwall to Scotland, including community spaces such as schools, village halls and churches. Rutter’s research informed a European Commission-funded 2016 production of The Merchant of Venice in the Venetian Ghetto (the first Jewish Ghetto), marking the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and the Ghetto’s 500th anniversary. The production’s use of an open-air public venue and live streaming enabled them to reach an audience of over 120,000 (118,000 via Facebook Live) many more than would attend a traditional performance venue.

The production toured to a prestigious festival in northern Italy, to various locations in the USA and was performed in a prison in Padua. Professor Rutter has also worked closely with director Phillip Breen on numerous productions for the RSC and other theatre companies. Both Dr Purcell and Professor Rutter’s work have made Shakespeare in performance accessible to audiences for whom classical theatre is not often available.

Their research has also informed the development of engaging and innovative digital teaching resources. Based on his extensive research of performance at the Globe, Dr Purcell provided expertise for the creation of Shakespeare’s Globe Archive: Theatres, Players and Performance, a digital resource for use in teaching in Higher Education. Professor Rutter consulted with director Adam Smethurst on Shanty Productions’ Twelfth Night, a modern, inclusive full text film adaptation of the play aimed primarily at students.

The film has been downloaded almost 5,000 times and the accompanying viewtorials, videos of experts examining each scene in depth, have been viewed over 16,000 times. Professor Rutter has also provided expert insights and analysis for Digital Theatre+ (DT+), used by teachers across the world.


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