On Tuesday morning I was at the British Museum in London for the official launch of the 2012 World Shakespeare Festival. The World Shakespeare Festival is a celebration of Shakespeare as the world’s playwright, produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company, in an unprecedented collaboration with leading UK and international arts organisations. There are over 50 formal partners in the World Shakespeare Festival, including Voluntary Arts. The festival runs from 23 April to November 2012 and forms part of London 2012 Festival, which is the culmination of the Cultural Olympiad, bringing leading artists from all over the world together in a UK-wide festival in the summer of 2012.
Speaking at the launch, Ruth McKenzie, Director of the Cultural Olympiad and London 2012 Festival said “the World Shakespeare Festival will be one of the most remarkable celebrations of Shakespeare the world has ever seen”. Royal Shakespeare Company Artistic Director, Michael Boyd, called it “this most outrageously collaborative and ambitious festival”. Deborah Shaw, World Shakespeare Festival Director, said “we are trying to redefine what’s possible in creating a festival for a globalised age”.
Michael Boyd stressed the importance of the involvement of amateur groups in the World Shakespeare Festival. He talked of “Britain’s wonderful amateur theatrical tradition” and said he wanted to “redefine the relationship between professional theatre and the amateur theatre movement in the UK”. More than 260 amateur groups involving 7200 people (aged from 6 to 90) are taking part in the RSC Open Stages project, sharing skills and working with the RSC and 9 partner theatres to perform their own interpretations of Shakespeare everywhere from castles, parks and village halls to pubs, churches and a coffin works. Michael specifically mentioned the Royal Navy theatre group’s amateur staging of Much Ado About Nothing – an outdoor production in the naval dockyard at Portsmouth which will take place in July 2012 and will involve officers recently returned from active duty in Afghanistan and Iraq. Deborah Shaw singled out the pro-am production of West Side Story at the Sage, Gateshead, as one of the highlights of the Open Stages project. This will be a huge production, taking place from 4 – 7 July 2012, directed by Will Tuckett and featuring Northern Sinfonia and a cast including young performers, amateurs and semi-professionals. The amateur productions showcased by Open Stages include 19 Macbeths, 18 A Midsummer Night’s Dreams, 13 Tempests, 12 Romeo and Juliets as well as 30 new plays, 6 new musicals and 26 devised plays. Some of the most exciting amateur companies will perform at the RSC’s Stratford-upon-Avon home as part of the World Shakespeare Festival on 13, 14, 15, 21 and 22 July 2012.
Dominic Drumgoole, Artistic Director of Shakespeare’s Globe, described ‘Globe to Globe’ which will take place from 23 April to early June 2012 and will involve productions of all of 37 Shakespeare plays at the Globe, each in a different language. Dominic’s flawless recitation, from memory, of all the relevant countries and languages was a tour-de-force which demonstrated both his skill as an actor and his direct involvement in developing the programme.
Peter Mather from World Shakespeare Festival sponsors BP said that “BP has always believed that arts and culture are vital to the health and wellbeing if the fabric of society”. He spoke about ‘My Shakespeare’ – a digital project supported by BP connecting people to Shakespeare’s places.
Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, described ‘Shakespeare: Staging the World’, an exhibition on the world of Shakespeare at the British Museum from 19 July to 25 November 2012. The exhibition will bring Shakepeare’s London to life through objects from the Museum’s collection and from across Europe, marking the moment at which London became a world city.
The World Shakespeare Festival is a massive undertaking and has so many strands it is difficult to remember them all, let alone describe them coherently. But it was great to hear so much prominence given, at the launch, to Open Stages and the involvement of amateurs. The World Shakespeare Festival is going to provide a fantastic international platform to showcase the best of UK amateur theatre. More details at http://worldshakespearefestival.org.uk.
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