Shakespeare Lives is the British Council’s major cultural programme for 2016. It will be a global celebration of the life and works of William Shakespeare on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of his death. Shakespeare Lives is about sparking cultural exchange through the shared language of Shakespeare. Throughout 2016, the Shakespeare Lives programme will bring together all areas of the organisation to create a truly worldwide celebration of his works.
To mark this occasion, the British Council in Bangladesh, in collaboration with UK’s Graeae Theatre Company and Dhaka Theatre of Bangladesh, will organise a unique production of Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in 2016 featuring young artists with disabilities. The British Council held a Press Launch to announce the initiative on 12 November, 2015 at British Council’s office in Fuller Road. Barbara Wickham, Director, British Council and Matt Pusey, Deputy Director, British Council were present at the event. BRAC has been a partner in this venture along with many other organisations.
The British Council is calling this unique production ‘A Different Romeo and Juliet’. The one of a kind production is led by Jenny Sealey, Artistic Director of Graeae Theatre Company in collaboration with Dhaka Theatre’s Nasiruddin Yousuff. The artists are drawn from different groups of people in Bangladesh with disabilities, with participants from Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralysed (CRP-Bangladesh), Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), Bangladesh Reform Initiatives for Development, Governance and Empowerment (BRIDGE) and Gram Theatre.
The project aims to premier the play at Shilpakala Academy (National Academy of Fine and Performing Arts) in March 2016. The play will be performed in front of the general public comprising of a targeted audience of policy makers, organisations and other stakeholders working with people with disabilities, special needs schools and the average theatre lovers.
The British Council wishes to establish a legacy of this ambitious project. Their plan is to do a five city national tour following the Dhaka performance, a nationwide TV viewing, documentary about the journey screened for an international audience at festivals to name a few. This project has the potential to reach more than 50 million people nationally and internationally.
Speaking about the project,Jenny Sealeysaid, ‘I feel so very privileged to be part of this epic journey of discovering the talent of Deaf and Disabled people in Bangladesh. The project is extremely important because it challenges people's perception of what deaf and disabled people can do and places then in the universal love story Romeo and Juliet and we will create a world where everyone has the right to love and be loved’.
‘Shakespeare’s work transcends the boundaries of time and culture. I am honoured to be a part of this grand project based on his work, which aims to reach to a large audience with a thought-provoking message. The eternal story of Romeo and Juliet being performed by artists with disability yet highly talented young people on the biggest cultural stages in the country shows that ‘limitation’ is only a word, which can be surpassed with plan and practice. Thanks to British Council for thinking differently,’ said Nasiruddin Yousuff in his speech.
The British Council started this project in 2013 with a focus on empowering people with disabilities through giving them acting workshops as a tool to help them explore their identity, facilitate social exclusion, and an infuse and enriched sense of self-worth. After two years of workshops alternatively run by Dhaka Theatre and Jenny Sealey, both partners along with the British Council came to agreement about the greater possibilities and ambitions of the project. They selected 17 participants who they believed can be developed further through a series of workshops to perform A Different Romeo and Juliet on stage in March 2016.