York International Shakespeare Festival Returns


Nadia Sayed reports on this year's York International Shakespeare Festival, including the new pass it on ticket scheme for immigrants and refugees.

Article Image


By Nadia Sayed

On 18 April 2024, the York International Shakespeare Festival (YISF) returned for the sixth year, with an exciting ten-day line-up celebrating all things Shakespeare. Initially established in 2014, the festival showcases adaptations of Shakespeare’s works, making “global Shakespeare accessible to UK audiences from York and beyond” (YISF). This year’s festival lasted until 28 April with several exciting events, from talks to showcases and performances.

Beginning as a partnership between Parrabbola, York’s Theatre Royal and the University of York, the festival now includes multiple York-based organisations including Riding Lights Theatre, the York Shakespeare Project and from 2023, York St John University. This year, the University of York’s very own Shakespeare Society (ShakeSoc) participated in the festival, with members volunteering in showcases and live performances across the ten days.

Events included a staged performance of Twelfth Night, The Taming of the Shrew, an hour of music from past Shakespeare productions and numerous other exciting events.

Nouse spoke to the director of the YLF, Philip Parr who stated: “We invite companies who make Shakespeare in languages other than English...Within the European Shakespeare Festival’s network we define the international festival by presenting work from countries that are not your own. There is more Shakespeare not in English than in English.”

The festival encourages guests to engage with diverse interpretations of Shakespeare’s work, enriching cultural understanding of the writers from the Early Modern period.

Parr emphasised the importance of having the festival in York: “Apart from Manchester, this will probably be the only international festival that happens in the North of England”.

When asked what some of the challenges were surrounding funding, Parr stated: “The main challenge is not having any money. We need to find ways to find other support.” Parr also expressed that since Covid-19, he has been trying to build a range of connections to improve the readings and overall production of the festival.

In addition to encouraging the local community to engage with Shakespeare’s work through various mediums, this year’s festival worked on bringing even more diversity with the ‘Pass It On!’ ticket scheme.

Anyone who buys a ticket to the festival has the option to also purchase an unlimited amount of additional ‘Pass It On!’ tickets. The extra tickets provide asylum seekers or refugees within the York community with the opportunity to also access the festival, further breaking down barriers between the creative industry and Shakespeare more specifically.

However, a key challenge facing this year’s festival stems from the fact that organisers have been unsuccessful in their applications for funding from Arts Council England. As a result, during a time when financial barriers are already proving significant for the arts and culture sector, organisers are pleading for greater support and donations to keep the festival going. Attendees of the event were also encouraged to donate to the festival, if willing and able to do so.

When Nouse asked Parr about the scheme he stated: “If you’re a refugee, you don’t have any money for luxuries and theatres. Theatre is a luxury. We could give people tickets, but this would have an impact on our box office. So we created a way of buying a ticket which could be given to someone who couldn’t afford a ticket, and that is, pretty specifically for us, around the refugee and asylum seeker community in York.” Nouse then asked if the ‘Pass It On!’ ticket scheme had been successful so far, to which Parr replied, “Yes, yes, we have been oversubscribed for tickets and a lot of people have even just  bought a pass it on ticket for others.”

Finally Nouse asked Parr what one of his best achievements has been so far.

Parr responded, “One is probably proudest of the things he starts from scratch. So, a theatre company and an Opera House. If it [the Opera House] were still there, I’d be even prouder of it but it had an impact. I am proud of this festival because it didn’t exist until we decided it should and it still does exist. “What’s important now is the mantra of community play-making and community arts”.