Fri 6 Jan, 2023
Inspired by the original Humans of New York, Humans of Shakespeare North Playhouse aims to document as many of the wonderful people who walk through our building each day. Giving a glimpse into who they are and the story they have to share.
“Let me be that I am and seek not to alter me.”
Much Ado About Nothing, Act 1, Scene 3
“I lead the Shared Reading sessions at Shakespeare North every week. We have it on a Thursday or a Friday and it’s in association with The Reader, a national charity which promotes reading and advocates literacy. The idea is that literature should be for everybody to enjoy. There’s no pressure for people to respond, they can just listen if they want to and enjoy the experience of being with other people. It’s a really good way of connecting people, as well as introducing people to new texts and new ways of thinking.
We’re one of many spaces that offers it. It takes place in schools, prisons, care homes, mental health facilities. There’s so many community spaces that do what we’re doing, and we just really wanted to be a part of that.
It’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in years and it’s one of the highlights of my week. It’s a really magical experience, because the concept’s so simple and yet it generates such an amazing response from everyone who takes part. It’s a lovely idea just to meet with a group of people every week, read pieces together and respond to it on an instinctive level. There’s no pressure to get it right, there’s no wrong answers. It’s just how you feel when you read it and what you think about it, first impressions.
It creates a lot of personal responses- people start talking about their own lives naturally, because, you know, your own experience affects how you see something- it’s quite therapeutic.
I’ve been really surprised how other people’s responses changed the way I think, and a lot of the participants have said that as well, that they thought they knew this book or poem but talking about it with other people has made them see it in a new way. It really brings it to life- particularly for those of us who might be ex-teachers out there! I wish I’d done this before with my classes, you get complacent when you read something so much you think oh, I’ll just ask the same old question. But with shared reading it’s how do you feel reading this, what stands out to you, rather than what does this mean.
Even though we have an established group of regulars we still see new faces every week. It’s so welcoming of new people from all walks of life and there’s a real mix of ages and backgrounds. A lot of them have said it helps them escape, some might be feeling a bit lonely, and it gives them a reason to talk to people.
My mum comes along! She loves it and is gutted if she can’t make a session. She enjoys meeting everyone so much and I love seeing them respond to her ideas. People are so interesting, the anecdotes they have and the history that they bring. One of the readers works with SHARE and helps asylum seekers and refugees and we were exploring a speech from Shakespeare’s Sir Thomas More, where he’s basically fighting for refugee rights and she just gave us this amazing talk about the state of the world and what the people in the local community are going through because she sees it first-hand. The rest of the group were just in awe of that, and wanted to know what they could do to help. It’s a real network of people, not just this little contained community.
The great thing is nobody can prepare for it. Your instinctive reaction is what you’re invited to share. Without having prepared you don’t edit yourself in the same way, so it becomes a lot more emotional. You see people’s first reactions and they’re often quite moved in a way that they wouldn’t if it was a book club, because they’re sharing it for the first time. It creates real bonds between people. There’s also no pressure to keep reading the same book either. It’s new things every week, all we do is a tiny passage of a book and a piece of poetry and looking at a little piece in such detail is a really enriching experience. Nothing’s thrown away, everything’s digested. The attendees seem to really enjoy that, that they can take the time to slow down and just breathe.
I’m so lucky that everyone who comes is so enthusiastic and wanting to share that it’s never really needed much nudging from me. I love the fact that they give me a new insight into stuff I thought I knew and I love meeting new people every week. I feel like we’ve got a real little family here now. It’s just a growing thing week by week and we’re creating a real reading revolution here!”