Midsummer @ Midsummer (Part The Second)

It was Midsummer last week so there was a lot going on. As the previous post threatened to grow to unmanageable proportions bisection was the obvious answer. For continuity purposes you might like to read Part The First, first!

Right, all caught up? Then off we go!

Not content with offering 84 adults the opportunity to work on the professional stage through its flagship 2016 production A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play For The Nation, the RSC has also been extremely busy ensuring that the next generation engage with this most popular of Shakespeare plays. Regular readers will be aware that bands of fairies up and down the country have been drafted into the production and received excellent coaching from the RSC mentors (click here). The Education Department has also produced first rate supportive materials to encourage teachers to explore the play with their pupils in their own schools (click here).

ClyhVoGWYAANjq8Last week another family oriented experience took place on the banks of the Avon namely the Fairy Portal Camp – click here. This was devised and led by Slung Low theatre company assisted by The School Of Night and RashDash. The camp’s aim was “to reopen the connection between us and the spirit world” and was loosely based on Shakespeare generally and some of the themes in The Dream. During the week visiting participants could simply drop in and take part in free activities including willow-work, poetry classes, improvisation, cooking, costume making, singing, dance classes and writing workshops. Each evening a silent disco ‘fairy rave’ took place around a bonfire, dinner featuring vegan food was served and performances of song, dance, drama and poetry took place under the trees. Celebrations culminated on Saturday 25th  June with the attempt to ‘open the portal’ between the two worlds through a theatrical immersive ceremony of feast, fire and song – complete with mechanical dolphins travelling down the River Avon.

Sounds irresistible and so it proved to one of the Tower team. Having already seen a performance at the RST earlier in the week our trusty man of action Al, (“one Snout by name”) took the long road back to Stratford.

 Dream 2016 producer Ian Wainwright had put out a call for participants for a flash mob which would suddenly appear and do the main production’s Bergomask dance in the Fairy Portal Camp, a collection of tipis up near Holy Trinity Church (presumably so that Will could keep an eye on things). I thought twice about going (and Ian clearly thought I was mad to turn up), but the journey free of weekday traffic early on Saturday was smooth, and I was spurred on by the hope of getting a day ticket for the evening ceremony in order to make a day of it.

 I was first in the queue at the theatre, only to find, when they opened at 10.00am, that the Fairy Portal tickets were down at The Other Place, to which place I duly ran, arriving to find myself about sixth in the queue. Worse was to follow: there were no day tickets at all!  But Matthew from The Other Place took my phone number, and during the morning he called me to let me know that a ticket had become available.

 

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Flashflood

This was as I was coming away from the aforementioned flash mob performance of the Bergomask. This actually got close to being a flash flood as the heavens opened just as Ian was deciding where (and  even if) we should perform. After a few minutes under umbrellas, it got so bad that we had to take refuge in a tipi where we were made welcome until the rain stopped. After that, the Bergomask went ahead led by Glasgow’s Bottom, Martin Turner. The mob was a motley crew, including the Glasgow Citizens Dream team who were

 

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Flashmob

currently playing the Mechanicals, members of the main company including stage management and production, other assorted Mechanicals like me, and director Erica who, fittingly, knew all the dance moves. The opening of the Fairy Portal, later, was a magical evening of storytelling, songs, dancing, eating, and transformation leading up to the final summoning ceremony.

 In between these two events I went to the newly refurbished and reopened Other Place for a coffee and found myself taking the tour of the building (recommended). It was a particular pleasure to see a picture displayed of the first read-through of our Dream production at Clapham; this was outside the top floor rehearsal room on a revolving slide show screen (if you see what I mean). Long may it stay there! And there I was in the picture, and there were all of the Tower cast with the main company. Ian Wainwright had said after that read-through, that there was a big sigh of relief when it became clear that this Dream bird was going to fly. And we are soon flying up to Stratford for our two nights onstage on the 11th and 12th July, not by private helicopter, but hey, are we looking forward to it…………!

 With you on that one, Al and thanks for your report.

Playmaking Festival

As you’ll have gathered by now the RSC is VERY big on A Midsummer Night’s Dream this year and the next addition to the growing roster of events is the Dream Team Playmaking Festival. Last year schools were invited to put together a production of a specially commissioned half hour adaptation of the play and now over 50 schools (and 1,600 children) have been invited to Stratford to give a performance of their version at either The Other Place or The Dell, the open air performance space which had hosted the Fairy Portal Camp. Another great feat of logistics by the backroom boys and girls of the RSC but one that really shows their commitment to inclusivity.  I’ll have more to say on all this in my next post as I’m going to sample one of these performances alongside a visit to the main house production and, now that I’ve seen Al’s report, I’ll hopefully fit in a tour round The Other Place exhibition. It’s all go, isn’t it?

Meanwhile (and talking of impressive logistics) let’s wrap up this post with some of the statistics which have characterised the touring production:

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The production runs for two more weeks in Stratford upon Avon. Click on the image below for details

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                     The Tower Theatre will be performing with the Royal Shakespeare Company                                at The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon

               Monday 11th and Tuesday 12th July at 7.15

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Midsummer @ Midsummer (Part The Second)

Met By Moonlight

For the first time in a number of weeks, indeed months, there is little to report on in the way of direct Dream activity. Having finished its initial run in Stratford upon Avon A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play For The Nation is taking a well-earned break before the national tour starts in earnest (actually it starts in Newcastle – boom boom!) However that does not mean that nothing worthy of mention took place – so here’s what occurred at a couple of events I went to.

WeekenderUnless you have been living under a stone for the last six months you cannot fail to have noticed that 2016 marks four hundred years since Shakespeare’s death and that, in consequence, there are an awful lot of things planned in commemoration. The Barbican in London (our performance venue in May) has its own programme of plays, concerts, dance performances and exhibitions which goes under the general title of Play On; this, in turn, is part of the nationwide celebrations known as Shakespeare 400. As part of this, on the first weekend in March, the Barbican held what it called A Shakespeare Weekender. Filling the various open spaces and foyers of the Barbican, this event was two days of modern responses to Shakespeare and his world by artists drawn from theatre, dance, film, art and music and included workshops, talks, poetry readings, installations and performances throughout the weekend. So I thought I’d go along and see what was happening.

I’d thought it would be quite a brief visit but I actually managed to fill a whole afternoon immersing myself in Shakespearean related activity. First stop was perhaps the most bizarre – a pop up performance of something called Much Ado About Bingo. I think you had to be there but it basically involved listening out for Shakespearean quotes included in the patter of a fictional 1970s TV personality interspersed with reminiscences about the hit tunes and TV adverts of the day. Prizes included a bunch of parsnips, packets of dried lasagne and a Crunchie bar – as I say, you had to be there. Next it was off to a workshop run by RSC voice coach Tess Dignan where we all got to do vocal warmups (a salutary reminder of what we had been doing recently in Dream rehearsals), insulted each other Shakespeare style and carried out a mass reading of a Caliban speech from The Tempest. I popped my head in at the Shakespeare Karaoke Glitter Party – and quickly popped it out again – watched the T shirt making, badge making and tattooing exhibitions (quotes from Shakespeare) and handled some real Elizabethan objects courtesy of the London Museum. These included one of the pots used to collect theatre goers’ entrance money which I had learned about in my autumn online Shakespeare course. I singularly failed to participate in MoveMe’s flashmob dance class (perhaps I really should have), but listened to some poetry reading and rounded off the afternoon by taking a look at a stage fight demonstration again put on by the RSC.

However, all was not quite over as I then headed off on the short walk to the Guildhall. There was just time to view Shakespeare’s signature on his mortgage deed and see a copy of the First Folio in the Guildhall Library before joining the crowd in the courtyard for an early evening viewing of the Shakespeare son et lumiere. This was quite spectacular using 3D projection on the Guildhall’s façade accompanied by speeches from the plays and a musical composition by the resident School of Music and Drama. A most uplifting 20 minutes to end a day that was both stimulating (big tick) and free (another big tick).

Met By MoonlightNow, I have written in this blog before about the work of the RSC Education team (see here and here) and, even if the main production of The Dream is on furlough, their work has continued. Thus it was that I took myself off to Canterbury one evening to see a performance entitled The Dream: Met By Moonlight, an interschool’s version of Shakespeare’s play (don’t worry I’ll explain in a minute!) The performance stemmed out of work carried out through the RSC’s Learning and Performance Network. This is where subscribing schools enter into a three year partnership with the RSC leading to teacher training, learning about Shakespeare in the classroom, artist-led projects and performance opportunities. Indeed it is from schools in their second year of partnership that the 580 children playing Titania’s fairy train have been drawn for the #Dream2016 production. The schools taking part in this production (at six locations across the country) are in the final year of partnership.

I had never actually been to the Marlowe Theatre but it is a very nice space indeed with a 1,200 capacity, very comfortable seating and good acoustics. It only reopened in 2011 and I can see why it is fast becoming a popular venue for touring shows such as the RSC’s Dream. There were nine schools performing the evening I went along, giving a shortened version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream which had been divided into nine scenes with each school taking on responsibility for one part. It was akin to a relay race and not unlike our own experience with the RSC project. However, instead of each amateur group passing on the baton to the next at the end of a week’s run, in this version the baton was passed on between scenes. Thus we saw nine different Titanias and Oberons, nine sets of Mechanicals and so on. You had to keep your wits about you as one minute Puck might be a fourteen year old boy and the next a nine year old girl – indeed the actors ages ranged from seven to seventeen. All of this was played out in a variety of costumes, to the accompaniment of student musicians and co-ordinated by student stage hands. All in all some 200 young people were involved. There were some arresting performances and delightfully magical moments and the packed audience could sense the pride the students had in their achievement.

535219_1672486859668677_3792005944168065919_nThe individual scenes had been rehearsed in the various schools but the whole thing had to be brought together in one day before the performance in the evening – hats off to Robin Belfield of the RSC Education team who had somehow achieved this mammoth task. I sat next to him during the performance and, just like any director, he was gripping the seat arms with anticipation and reacting with delight when it all worked. It was good to meet Fiona Clayton, the RSC Programme Developer for the Learning and Performance Network, who I had been corresponding with on Twitter; turns out she used to live just up the road from me! Also present were Sarah and Sally (Canterbury Players’ Quince and group director respectively) and we were able to catch up in the interval. They too are playing the waiting game until it is their turn to perform – though they are up earlier than us. In fact they are performing on THE big day, 23rd April, just the very ideal time to go and see a Shakespeare production. Perhaps I’ll see you there!

By the way it’s #ShakespeareWeek in schools. Find out more by clicking below

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The UK tour starts this week at Northern Stage in Newcastle. Please click on image below to show detailsNewcastle

Met By Moonlight