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Shakespeare Here: Etseri, Svaneti

27-May-2019

Shakespeare Here

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My wife has been putting her university background in drama to good use recently. There has been a call for short numbers by school pupils based on Shakespeare in the Mestia region, which will be shown in the capital on Saturday.

She asked me to put together a selection of the Bard’s sonnets, which most conveniently are also available in good Georgian translations of the difficult English. Some of these will be read by pupils, as well as a short biography of the man, whose very identity is still under much question after these centuries. A recent theory is that he was actually a woman; not without supporting evidence. Intriguing.

It’s the Grade 4 class who are getting the most fun, though, acting out the closing scene from Romeo and Juliet, leaning towards the great modern American-set movie version which introduced the play to a vast new audience. For me growing up, Shakespeare really benefited from video, coming alive in ways which the printed page alone failed to do for me. I can still remember Mad Max and Cruella Deville doing Hamlet in about 1990, nailing it. For our generations, cinema is an important medium, and I say, the more Shakespeare adapted into it, the better, to keep his legacy going without end.

I drew the line at using a “real” toy gun borrowed from the shop for Juliet to kill herself upon discovering Romeo’s suicide, though; instead I offered to make a crude cardboard silhouette pistol, because I don’t want any young people or their parents getting ideas that we’re promoting murder of the self at all. I’ve added a cardboard mike for the reporter (narrator) and have offered an old camera and my tripod for the film crew who are involved with her. Practically every word from R J made it into this film version we’ve been watching, although swords were replaced with guns and Prince’s music, along with that of others, was added. Brilliant, unforgettable, fresh but timeless. The class have watched the required clips to see how it was done, to get a feel for it, and are full of enthusiasm which my wife prays will continue into their graduation some eight years from now. If so, the world will be at their feet.

Her dramatic gifts are key, too, in helping them forget that they’re even using their 3rd language. Whether it’s having a passionate debate about a controversial subject, talking to foreign tourists who speak no Georgian or Svan or even Russian, the more the children can just get on with English as un-self-consciously as possible, the better. Plays are one medium for helping them do this.

I hope my wife will have the chance to incorporate more drama into extra-curricular activities. The pupils love getting into it; some of them are real performers. Their parents usually know enough of the plot to follow along even if they’re not getting every word in English. And it’s helping show all generations that English knowledge here, in this little village high in the mountains, is wasted neither as entertainment nor as a help to future job prospects, here, in Mestia, in Tbilisi or anywhere in the world their hearts can dream of. Enough of apathy or of thinking that those dreams are nonsense, unattainable. The play’s the thing to set them on a course towards future success!

Tony Hanmer has lived in Georgia since 1999, in Svaneti since 2007, and been a weekly writer for GT since early 2011. He runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with nearly 2000 members, at www.facebook.com/groups/SvanetiRenaissance/

He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri:

www.facebook.com/hanmer.house.svaneti

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