Conference Report

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So…the Cambridge Shakespeare Sources and Adaptation conference. Still sorting my thoughts out on it, to be honest. I still can’t quite believe I found the courage to go – alone, just a lowly MA student who has yet to officially graduate. I can’t quite believe that I sat in the same room as Stanley Wells and dared to open my mouth. I’m painfully aware that when I’m nervous I tend to blurt out rubbish and I worked very hard to control that without avoiding interaction altogether.

In fact, virtually everyone I met was approachable, open and friendly. Obviously the big names like Trevor Nunn and Carol Ann Duffy were a draw, but what amazed me was how at every coffee break and mealtime I found myself talking with the most amazing people. I got to know a woman who runs an enormous independent children’s bookshop and works incredibly hard setting up school libraries. I had breakfast with a technician who has filmed Hamlet at Elsinore Castle (and his descriptions of the venue brought the play to life for me – I’m sure Shakespeare must have had a few drinks with someone who had actually been there). I spoke with a Norwegian criminologist finishing his thesis. I networked with someone who is taking Shakespeare into schools in a big way, right in the part of England where I live. I found out about a bizarre book called The Shakespeariad written 90 years ago by an American philosopher (of sorts) – it would make an amazing comic book series. I heard a very gifted young group of actors and musicians perform a 75 minute Hamlet, both moving and hilarious, fresh from the Edinburgh Festival. I put faces to people I’d hitherto only met in cyberspace.

I could go on. And on, and on. The whole weekend was empowering and stimulating, and it surprised me that I was accepted as someone with interesting things to say. I’d mainly gone, quite honestly, for Lisa Hopkins’ discussion of David Tennant’s Hamlet and The End of Time, and I will be blogging about that, but first I want to re-watch the DVD, including the extras. I think it validated how far I’ve come on this journey of getting a higher degree. I tend to underrate myself (I’m always astonished when I get jobs, for example) and what had begun as a project for my own self-development has increasingly become an opportunity to offer my enthusiasm and expertise to the world. I might not be a great scholar, but I know more than most people about my little corner where Shakespeare and children’s books intersect. I’d like to do something with it.

The most interesting session I attended was on Sunday morning; there were only six of us in the room and that included some very big names in Shakespeare studies in the UK, in fact worldwide. The professional academics (almost everyone except me) talked in acronyms, as such people tend to do, wondering aloud how to convince grant-giving bodies that the stuff they do has an impact on society. I felt I’d nothing to contribute. But then I realised that I was there not as a producer, but as a consumer. I could tell them the story of how I’d gone from a barely-remembered, pre-literary theory, long ago BA, to taking a further degree in my early 50s, a journey that had started at the Globe in London and taken in Stratford, fandom, and Roehampton Uni Children’s Literature department along the way. And I’m glad that I’m not entirely a part of their world, because I think they need people like me to tell them what it’s like out here on the other side.

So, lots of opportunities are opening up. Maybe one or two of them will actually come to something. I might be doing some writing for the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust on the web. Or promoting Shakespeare in schools. I wouldn’t rule out another qualification. But even if none of that happens, I’m so glad I made the journey. I’m a very lucky person – I’ve worked hard, but I’ve also been blessed with great opportunities. If I can find a way to give something back that I’ve received myself, it will be the icing on the cake.

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