Shakespeare brings British and Zambian artists together

UK theatre director Ben Spiller works with Barefeet Theatre in Zambia to create an African Midsummer Night’s Dream

  • Ben Spiller with Barefeet Theatre. Photograph: 1623
  • Barefeet Theatre. Photograph: British Council
  • Barefeet Theatre in rehearsal. Photograph: 1623

On the day of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, African actors performed A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Lusaka Playhouse, a popular theatre venue in the heart of Zambia’s capital city. The production was a brand new collaboration from the UK theatre director Ben Spiller and the Zambian company Barefeet Theatre that reimagined Shakespeare’s well-known play for contemporary Zambian audiences.

The collaboration was part of Shakespeare Lives, our global programme of activities celebrating Shakespeare throughout 2016. The project forms part of our work fostering collaboration and networks: supporting creative people in the UK and other countries to work together, experiment with new ideas and develop sustainable ways of working.

“We could call the production A Zambian Night’s Dream and interpret the play as the dream of a Lusakan street child.”

Barefeet Theatre was founded by former street children as a response to the plight of homeless young people in Zambia. It has a company of professional actors and runs outreach projects that reach thousands of children across the country.  “I’m absolutely in love with this theatre company,” says Stiller. “They’re passionate, they’re energetic, they’re intelligent, they’re inquisitive, they absorb, they question... It’s just an absolute dream to work with these guys.” 

Spiller is Artistic Director of 1623, a theatre company based in Derby that specialises in adapting Shakespeare’s work and develops ambitious learning and community projects. His work in Zambia focused on enlivening Shakespeare’s play with a series of workshops on voice, movement, acrobatics and dance. Although he spent just 10 days with Barefeet Theatre, they built a strong relationship during that time that is set to continue. 

“Shakespeare Lives has changed my life – as well as my artistic practice – for the better”

They’re not yet certain what their next step will be, but Spiller has lots of ideas. One is to rework the play with British performers joining the Zambian actors for a UK and international tour. “I’m very keen for this to happen, as working with Taonga [Tembo, Barefeet’s resident director] and the whole Barefeet team has been a fantastic fusion of British and African practice. We could call the production A Zambian Night’s Dream and interpret the play as the dream of a Lusakan street child.”

There’s also the possibility of an even longer-term connection, as Spiller is applying to be Barefeet’s new artistic director. “The project was hugely meaningful,” he says. “We all learned lots together and Shakespeare Lives has changed my life – as well as my artistic practice – for the better.”

Find out more:

> Watch a video diary by Ben Spiller about his time in Zambia and Botswana

> Listen to an interview with Barefeet Theatre company members about their work with homeless young people

> Experience an online festival of Shakespeare as part of our Shakespeare Lives celebrations 

 

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