Underfunding access to Shakespeare 'denying children their birthright'
The Royal Shakespeare Company's artistic director said underfunding access to Shakespeare was "denying children their birthright".
Gregory Doran, who was appointed in 2012, described the impact of the RSC's education programme and committed to prioritising it further as he delivered the annual Richard Dimbleby Lecture in the Bard's 400th anniversary year.
He said: "In Shakespeare's jubilee year, it's one of my priorities as artistic director of the RSC to see that I can do all that I can so children at school today are given access (to see Shakespeare).
"As well as bringing our productions to new audiences in China and across the world, we are keen to extend the reach of Shakespeare into our own communities at home here in the UK, and it is one of the aspects of our work of which I am most proud.
"Our provision of access to Shakespeare, to drama, to literature, to music, to art, to culture, is an index by which we judge ourselves to be civilised, to deny that, to disregard that, to under-fund that, is to cheat ourselves and our children and deny them their birthright."
The RSC provides free screenings of filmed performances to schools and he described its partnership with King Ethe lbert School in Margate, formerly one of the worst performing schools in the country, as a "witness of the power of Shakespeare to transform lives".
Doran told the story of one mother who called the school to say that her son could not go on a trip to Stratford-upon-Avon to see The Merchant of Venice "because he didn't have a passport".
But he said the child "loved" the performance and had even persuaded his mother to take him back to see it again.
"Afterwards, the mum rang Kate (Grieg, the headteacher) and said, 'Now I get it!'"
He said "the shift in the level of aspiration of the whole school community has been massive" since the partnership began.
King Ethelbert's will take part in the RSC's touring production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, where schoolchildren will play queen Titania's fairy train and the parts of Bottom and the mechanicals will go to local amateur actors.
Doran, who has just presented Henry IV and Henry V for the first time in China, spoke of the impact that Shakespeare had on his own life.
He begins rehearsals for a new production of King Lear in three month's time but admitted it was "a play I could not watch for over a decade as, before he died, my own father declined into dementia".
He said: "It was too painful, too accurate, too damn true.
"We start rehearsals in three months' time ... a thought-provoking and nerve-wracking thought, thrilling too."
Doran joins a list of eminent names including Baroness Lane-Fox, Bill Gates, Sir Terry Pratchett and the Prince of Wales to deliver the lecture in honour of the veteran broadcaster.
The Richard Dimbleby Lecture 2016 airs on BBC One at 10.45pm.