Cultural Playing Field


Royal Shakespeare Company/Voluntary Arts creative planning weekend by Robin Simpson
November 2, 2009, 6:17 pm
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , , ,

I am aware that I have sometimes been guilty of excessive hyperbole in this blog but, on this occasion, I really have to say that our creative planning event last weekend with the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford was totally brilliant!

We brought 65 representatives of voluntary arts umbrella bodies to Stratford-upon-Avon for the weekend to work with RSC staff and actors to develop ideas for the 2012 World Shakespeare Festival (one of the major projects within the Cultural Olympiad). As well as the various amateur theatre umbrella bodies we also invited representatives from a range of artforms, including music, dance and poetry, to look at how we might use the festival to encourage greater collaboration between amateur arts groups as well as with the RSC and other professional companies.

There was a fantastic mood and genuine learning in both directions. On Saturday we were in the RSC’s Arden Street rehearsal rooms. RSC Artistic Director, Michael Boyd, gave an opening speech in which he said “the World Shakespeare Festival, at the very least, will be a great project we can all enjoy but, at best, could be quite culture-changing: something very radical is happening in theatre in this country”. He concluded that “the combined forces of professional and amateur theatre provide potentially a massive engine of social cohesion and social intelligence”. I had worried that, after his words of welcome, Michael Boyd might then disappear but he stayed with us all weekend (right to the end) and genuinely listened and learned from the umbrella bodies. He was really excited about what we might do together and has asked for a follow-up meeting with us as soon as possible.

Michael Boyd addressing the RSC/Voluntary Arts creative planning weekend

Michael Boyd addressing the RSC/Voluntary Arts creative planning weekend

After Michael’s welcome I talked about the false divide between professional and amateur that developed in the UK in the twentieth century and gave a brief overview of the various parts of the Cultural Olympiad. RSC Associate Director (and Director of the World Shakespeare Festival), Deborah Shaw, then explained the vision for the festival, in which a range of pro-am collaborations will form one of the three main strands.

We spent Saturday morning working in small groups (each with a mixture of RSC staff and amateur organisation representatives) to brainstorm the key elements, messages and legacies of the World Shakespeare Festival. The groups then reported back to a plenary session chaired by Michael Boyd which developed into a wide-ranging discussion about the potential of the festival.

Michael Boyd chairing the first plenary session at the RSC/Voluntary Arts creative planning weekend

Michael Boyd chairing the first plenary session at the RSC/Voluntary Arts creative planning weekend

On Saturday afternoon we took part in a series of workshops led by RSC staff, including ‘Movement’ with Struan Leslie, Head of Movement at the RSC, ‘Marketing and Press’ with Jo Litt, RSC Marketing Manager; David Collins RSC Head of Marketing and Nada Zakula, RSC Senior Press Officer, ‘Approaches to Shakespeare’s text’ with Lyn Darnley, RSC Head of Text, Voice and Artist Development, ‘Stage Management’ with Nicola Ireland, Stage Management Team for RSC’s Young People’s Hamlet and ‘Editing Shakespeare’s Text’ with RSC Assistant Director Vik Sivalingam. These workshops were excellent: they would have made a good series of TV programmes in themselves.

On Saturday evening we all went to see the new RSC production of ‘Twelfth Night’ at the Courtyard Theatre. It’s a wonderful show (see my review) and it was fascinating to spot aspects of this interpretation which had been explained to us in the afternoon workshops. I was particularly interested in the reaction of some of our non-theatre umbrella bodies, for whom Shakespeare is not particularly familiar and who had never seen an RSC production before, who were completely bowled over by it.

Justin Audibert leading a session at the RSC/Voluntary Arts creative planning weekend

Justin Audibert leading a session at the RSC/Voluntary Arts creative planning weekend

Three of the actors from Twelfth Night gave up their day off on Sunday to come to show us how their rehearsal process works in a session led by Assistant Director, Justin Audibert. And 65 representatives of voluntary arts umbrella bodies got to spend several hours on the stage of the Courtyard Theatre dreaming up visions of what the pro-am part of the World Shakespeare Festival might look like. The RSC staff were brilliant throughout, but the voluntary arts representatives also rose to the challenge and were enthusiastic, creative and innovative. There was an inspirational mood from the start, made more magical when we got to work in the theatre on Sunday.

Struan Leslie leading a session on the stage of the Courtyard Theatre

Struan Leslie leading a session on the stage of the Courtyard Theatre

In chairing the last plenary session I left the final word to Tom Williams – an amateur actor with around 50 years’ experience – who recited “Our revels now are ended” from The Tempest, which finishes “We are such stuff as dreams are made on”. It was a wonderful weekend and promises to be the start of an extremely exciting and productive partnership between Voluntary Arts and the Royal Shakespeare Company.

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1 Comment so far
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Sadly, an unexpected bout of illness prevented me from attending as planned but this blog reinforces the feedback I have already had from other delegates. NODA looks forward to continuing to support this initiative.

Comment by Tony Gibbs




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