Anglia Ruskin University: ARU students send Shakespeare into space

It’s Shakespeare, but not as you know it. The Globe is releasing a series of seven short films – each produced by Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) students – to coincide with their summer series of productions.

Shakespeare’s Globe and ARU have been exploring how the world’s most famous playwright can inspire, in short form film, in the digital world of 2022. The sixty second Shakespeare films each include some text from one of his original plays, but then jump in bold, imaginative new directions.

The Marvellous Prospero, inspired by The Tempest, has been transplanted from a Mediterranean island to the set of a superhero action movie. Wolsey’s Lament, based on a speech from Henry VIII, is an animated film focusing on migration, while Celestial sends the characters from Much Ado About Nothing on a NASA mission to space.

The films are released on the Shakespeare’s Globe’s website today [20 June], and each film will then be promoted on their social media and YouTube channels over the next seven days.

The collaboration involved ARU students visiting The Globe theatre in London, and director Kevin Bennett working with students on campus. The final films feature high production values and professional actors, including Ekow Quartey and Robert Firth.

Hans Petch, Lecturer in Film and Television Production at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), said:

“We received 23 proposals and from these, I worked with Dr Will Tosh, from Shakespeare’s Globe, to whittle these down to seven ideas that went forward. Each film had to include some original text, but how much or how little was down to the students.

“Typically, short Shakespeare films have involved monologues to camera, but these seven films are all incredibly creative, and feel very different. Some of the films involve entirely new narratives, placing the original characters in new stories and locations.

“What was so special about this project was that it wasn’t part of the students’ course. It was open to anyone in the faculty, and the seven films were real labours of love, each written, developed, and filmed in the students’ own time. They have been made by students from a range of courses, including illustration, drama, film studies, as well as film and TV production, and the final films are all enjoyable, accessible, and incredibly ambitious.”

ARU and Shakespeare’s Globe first collaborated last year, with ARU students producing five films on the theme of climate change, despite challenging Covid restrictions.

Dr Will Tosh, Head of Research at Shakespeare’s Globe, said:

“After Hans’s students made such an exquisite series of films in the difficult lockdown spring of 2021, I knew the ARU students’ work this year was going to be something special. I wasn’t disappointed.

“Jumping off from a series of prompt speeches from the Shakespeare plays that form the Globe’s summer season [Much Ado About Nothing, Julius Caesar, Henry VIII, The Tempest, and King Lear], the students at ARU have produced seven gems. I won’t say ‘little’ gems – the films might only be a minute long but they contain multitudes, from the galactic ambitions of Celestial to the family tragedy of Lear.

“Wolsey’s speech lamenting his fall in Henry VIII becomes a captivating meditation on migration and loss; Portia’s appeal to Brutus in Julius Caesar reappears as a shocking commentary on digital abstraction; and Prospero’s request to be freed by applause from his audience gets transformed into two wholly different but compellingly complementary forms.

“I have been absolutely stunned by the imagination, artistry, craft, professionalism and sheer hard work shown by the students this year, and I can’t wait for viewers to enjoy their work when the films are released online.”

In addition to being promoted on the Shakespeare’s Globe’s website and social media channels, there will be an opportunity to see all seven films in the cinema. A special “Sixty Second Shakespeare” screening will take place at the Arts Picturehouse in Cambridge on Friday, 1 July.