RSC Open Stages Gears Up for Shakespeare's 450th Birthday
As celebrations kick off for Shakespeare's 450th birthday on 23 April this year, his position as the people's playwright is stronger than ever - as proof of this, his plays are being performed around the country in village halls, community centres, pubs, castles, churches, and even in a quarry by an army of amateur theatre makers.
The Open Stages amateur companies have been busy building sets, sewing costumes and rehearsing scenes as they prepare for a frenetic year of performances beginning in the month of Shakespeare's birth, April 2014 and playing through until April 2015.
RSC Open Stages involves over 2500 participants including teachers, police officers, car salesmen, former soldiers, serving sailors, IT workers, nurses, students and pensioners - all are members of the 100 amateur theatre companies taking part in the this project which stretches across the UK. Each of these companies have been working with RSC professionals and its seven partner regional theatres, learning skills such as stage combat, stage management, acting and of course how to bring the words of the world's most performed playwright to life. And each of these companies will be performing their own Shakespeare or Shakespeare inspired production in a vast array of venues across the country.
Amongst the first to reach the stage were The Pirton Players, whose Orwellian take on Julius Caesar was staged in their local village hall in Hitchin. They were followed by the students of Leicester University, who inspired by the ongoing controversy over the fate of Richard III's recently discovered corpse in the local car park, staged a production of Shakespeare's play in the very Cathedral where he is proposed to be buried. While in Stockport the Garrick Theatre, an amateur company more than twice the age of the RSC, performed The Winter's Tale, a play last performed by them in 1906.
Coming up in April and May are two Hamlets one performed in a disused Victorian swimming pool in Glasgow (Strathclyde Theatre), the other performed by students from St Andrew's University in the style of a Danish crime drama. While the little performed Cymbeline is presented by Artisans Drama Society as a fairy tale and Bolton Little Theatre present have written a new play exploring the early lives of 'Lear's Daughters'.
The 100 amateur companies comprise of approximately 2,500 participants (the oldest being 80 and the youngest 8 years old), later performances include Macbeth in a Cardiff shopping centre, The Tempest in a quarry in Durham, the Royal Navy performing A Midsummer Night's Dream in the Second Sea Lords garden, Titus Andronicus in a Gulf War setting in Edinburgh, a female King Lear in London and a company of disabled actors staging Ilyria on Sea - based on Twelfth Night.
For a map of where our participants are located and further details on Open Stages: www.rsc.org.uk/openstages
Open Stages is the springboard for the recently announced Dream16, a nationwide tour of A Midsummer Night's Dream to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death on 23 April 2016. The production, which opens in Stratford-upon-Avon, will be co-produced with partner theatres and amateur companies in all twelve regions of the UK. In every location, Bottom and the rude mechanicals will be played by a local amateur group, and Titania's fairy train by local schoolchildren from each area.
Quotes from two RSC Open Stages Partner theatres:
Philip Crawford, Lyric Theatre, Creative Learning Co-Ordinator, Belfast:
'The mutual engagement between the Lyric and the amateur theatre movement in Ireland presented a terrific opportunity to explore and share good practice (and get to know each other into the bargain!), but to have the benefit of the experience and expertise of the RSC was, quite simply, a chance not to be missed.'
Abbie Wilcox, Project Manager, Contact Theatre, Manchester:
'Open Stages has reconnected us to our surrounding community and enabled us to really push the boundaries of performance. It has raised our profile nationally and been a fantastic opportunity for us to impart what we do well and learn new practices at the same time. Although this has been a fledgling project, it really does have the scope to develop into a long-lasting and fruitful partnership between the amateur and professional world. Several of our participants are now engaged on other projects and this is really a testament to the impact and legacy of the project.'
The RSC is partnered in the project by some of the country's leading theatres including:
The Lyric Theatre, Belfast, covering Northern Ireland
Sherman Cymru, Cardiff, covering Wales and the adjacent area
Nuffield Theatre, Southampton, covering the South of England
Questors theatre, London, covering London and the surrounding area
Contact Theatre, Manchester, covering the North of England