Meet the theatre group driving access to the performing arts for young Australians in our regions.
Have you heard of Bell Shakespeare’s Players?
Each year the group delivers performances to around 27,000 regional Australian students and teachers, bringing the Bard’s words to life for a new generation.
Students and their teachers speak of the profound impact the exposure to Shakespeare and the performing arts has, helping the students to see themselves more clearly, to find their voice and use it to contribute to the world around them.
However, in 2019 it was one of the Players who reported on the moving and powerful experience of touring to regional areas with Bell Shakespeare.
Oliver Harris grew up in the Northern NSW towns of Walgett, Moree and Rowena. Joining the Players, Oliver was most excited about touring to small towns similar to the ones he grew up in – but he hadn’t counted on visiting those exact towns, and performing for those communities.
Oliver shares his experiences with us:
‘I was able to travel in early July with our performances to schools in North West NSW (Coonamble, Walgett, Collarenebri, Rowena, Moree, and Warialda). This was a truly special experience.
‘Having grown up between Collarenebri and Rowena, the program means a lot to me. It is extremely rare that young people in communities like these are given any exposure to the arts, especially Shakespeare. Almost every school said to us that these shows were the highlight of their year.’
‘At our first show in Coonamble, the two primary schools combined to see a performance of Just Romeo and Juliet! This show is highly interactive and allows opportunities for some students to jump up and get involved in certain moments. This is a great initiative to increase the students’ confidence. Students in the more disadvantaged areas are often reluctant to participate. After this show, one student from Coonamble Public School came up to me with a teacher and thanked me for pulling her up, she said she would never do something like that normally and felt a little more confident to jump up when the opportunity arises again. It’s little things like this that make what we do impactful and meaningful in these areas.
‘In Moree, we had a handful of senior students speak with us after the performance, confessing that they love performing, but didn’t think it was a realistic career path because of where they lived. As Emily, Violette and myself are all from areas outside of the major Metropolitan regions we were able to encourage them to go for it and offer up some advice on how you can practically pursue such passions from remote Australia.
‘For me, the major highlight was getting to perform for my Primary school in Rowena. This was a very surreal experience. Before being cast in The Players, I had written off the opportunity to get to perform back in these communities unless I started my own touring company (a prospect that seemed completely out of reach). As a child I never saw any programs like The Players. This facilitated a dream of mine that I never thought would happen.
‘The Players is a truly special program, between the two teams we will visit around 50 000
students across each state and territory during our six month tour. If we are to enable future audiences to be from a more diverse background and allow the craft of theatre to continue, programs such as The Players are essential.’
The Australian Government is provide ongoing support for Bell Shakespeare under the National Performing Arts Partnership Framework.
Left to right: Emily Edwards, Oliver Harris, Violette Ayad
Image Credit: Monique Johnstone