Cultural Playing Field

RSC Open Stages Directors’ Weekend by Robin Simpson
October 3, 2013, 8:53 am
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Struan Leslie leading a workshop on movement at the RSC Open Stages Directors' Weekend at the Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

Struan Leslie leading a workshop on movement at the RSC Open Stages Directors’ Weekend at the Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

Last Saturday I was at the Courtyard Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon for the beginning of the Director’s Weekend – the first event in our new RSC Open Stages project. Directors from nearly 100 amateur theatre groups across the UK had assembled in Stratford for a weekend of workshops, skill-sharing and discussions with staff from the Royal Shakespeare Company and our other professional theatre partners. I spoke at the start of the weekend about the role Voluntary Arts played in developing the original Open Stages project and its importance in helping to raise the profile of the amateur arts and bring the professional and amateur theatre sectors closer together.

Voice & text workshop with Michael Corbridge at the RSC Open Stages Directors' Weekend at the Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

Voice & text workshop with Michael Corbridge at the RSC Open Stages Directors’ Weekend at the Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

I then sat in on some of the initial workshops (on voice & text – with Michael Corbridge, RSC Voice practitioner; and movement – with Struan Leslie, RSC Head of Movement) which shared approaches and techniques that the Directors could use in their amateur groups as they develop the productions that will be showcased through the new Open Stages project.

At lunchtime I spoke to the Directors about our Running Your Group online information services (, our Epic Awards scheme (which is open for entries until 30 November, see: and Voluntary Arts Week (which will take place from 9 – 18 May 2014, see:

Movement workshop on the stage of the Courtyard Theatre at the RSC Open Stages Directors' Weekend, Stratford-upon-Avon

Movement workshop on the stage of the Courtyard Theatre at the RSC Open Stages Directors’ Weekend, Stratford-upon-Avon

Robin Simpson.

Stagetext and community captioning by Robin Simpson
June 7, 2013, 1:28 pm
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I was in London on Thursday where I met Tabitha Allum, the Chief Executive of Stagetext. We discussed the progress of Stagetext’s work on ‘community captioning’ – encouraging amateur theatre groups to use live captioning for the deaf, deafened and hard of hearing people at their performances. Stagetext now has captioning displays which can be used by amateur groups in London and is seeking funding to enable more training of volunteer captioners within amateur societies. We talked about the potential to include sessions on captioning within the skills-sharing events in our new RSC Open Stages project. We also discussed subtitling the library of Running Your Group LIVE and Running Your Group weekly video webcasts.

Robin Simpson.

RSC Open Stages: Act 2 by Robin Simpson
May 23, 2013, 1:52 pm
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Also on Wednesday I was at the Royal Shakespeare Company offices in Covent Garden to meet Ian Wainwright to talk about our new Open Stages project. Funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, the new project involves 7 regional partner theatres and will provide opportunities for 100 amateur theatre groups across the UK to develop their own Shakespeare (or Shakespeare-related) productions to be performed between April 2014 and April 2015. Groups will take part in a series of regional skills-sharing events with professional theatre companies between September 2013 and April 2014. The best productions will be featured in regional showcase events hosted by the partner theatres. The deadline for applications from amateur theatre groups has been extended to 15 August 2013. Full details at:

Robin Simpson.

RSC Open Stages Showcase – Stratford-upon-Avon, 15/14/15 and 21/22 July 2012 by Robin Simpson
June 15, 2012, 11:03 am
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On two consecutive weekends in July (13/14/15 July and 21/22 July) twelve amateur theatre productions from all over the UK will be performing in Stratford-upon-Avon as part of the World Shakespeare Festival. These twelve productions have been selected from more than 270 amateur theatre groups taking part in our RSC Open Stages project and represent some of the best amateur theatre you will ever see.

They include:

  • The Tower Theatre Company from London performing ‘Baba Shakespeare’ by Emmeline Winterbotham which follows a troupe of travelling British players in 1960s India as they journey from desert palace to hill station, performing Shakespeare amid declining audiences, changing circumstances and ever more slender means. (Courtyard Theatre, 7.30pm, Friday 13 July, Tickets cost £5)
  • ‘Julius Caesar’ performed by Rainbow Factory from Belfast, is a contemporary retelling set on the Shankill Road in the early 2000’s during a loyalist feud. The play uses Shakespeare’s tragedy to explore some of the themes of Belfast’s recent past including the relationships between those in power and the role of violence in society. This will be followed by ‘MacBeth in Scots’, performed by Edinburgh Theatre Arts. Translated from Shakespeare by Robin Lorimer, this is the first production of Macbeth to be staged in Scots. The powerful translation brings to vibrant life Shakespeare’s bloody tale of ambition, treachery and downfall. (Courtyard Theatre, 7.30pm, Saturday 14 July, Tickets cost £5)
  • ‘Pocket Dream’ by Elly Brewer and Sandi Toksvig, performed by Riverside Drama Company from Long Eaton, Derbyshire. With actors in dispute with the management and refusing to leave The Cricketers pub, a cast is cobbled together resulting in a hilarious bravado of comic costumes and romantic confusion and fun. (Swan Theatre, 4pm, Sunday 15 July, Tickets cost £5)
  • ‘Henry VIII The Musical’ performed by Walden Musical from Saffron Walden in Essex. ‘Henry VIII The Musical’ is a spell-binding new production about England’s most famous King. At turns powerfully emotive and hilariously funny, this fast paced theatre spectacle keeps audiences entertained for performance after performance. (Courtyard Theatre, 7pm, Sunday 15 July, Tickets cost £5)
  • ‘The Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged’ written by Adam Long Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield, performed by Tread The Boards, the resident Company at the Attic Theatre, Cox’s Yard, Stratford upon Avon. This whistle-stop tour of the Bard’s complete works promises to leave you laughing until you can laugh no more. Tread the Boards’ unrivalled energy will captivate Shakespeare lovers and haters alike in this energetic and rollercoaster of a performance. (Royal Shakespeare Theatre, 9.30pm, Sunday 15 July, Tickets cost £5)
  • and much more ….


It’s going to be very exciting but also a tough sell as the groups will be performing far from their regular audience base. We are determined to make sure they have as big an audience as possible. Tickets for each production cost only £5.

We are also offering a whole day (half day on Sundays) workshop experience with one of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s professional practitioners in voice, movement or stage combat to any amateurs coming to see the shows on that day – all for only £15!

Full details at:


Please do join us in Stratford-upon-Avon in July if you possibly can.

Please encourage as many people as possible to buy tickets for the shows.

And please watch this brilliant and inspiring video trailer and forward it to everyone you know!:

Robin Simpson.

World Shakespeare Festival partners’ day by Robin Simpson
March 16, 2012, 1:35 pm
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I was at the National Theatre in London on Tuesday to take part in the World Shakespeare Festival partners’ meeting. This event, chaired by the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Director of Communications, Liz Thompson, brought together marketing and communications officers from organisations including the National Theatre, Barbican, Sage Gateshead, Royal Opera House, British Museum, National Theatre Wales, Birmingham Rep, Northern Stage, Shakespeare’s Globe and Brighton Festival. Our Open Stages project and the way amateur theatre groups are getting involved in the World Shakespeare Festival got prominent attention (it was the first item we discussed!). Ian Wainwright from the RSC outlined the progress of Open Stages and representatives of three of the Open Stages partner theatres (Contact in Manchester, Questors in London and the National Theatre of Scotland) described the plans for their forthcoming Open Stages showcase events. It was also fascinating to hear about the multitude of other World Shakespeare Festival productions in preparation across the UK – from Simon Russell-Beale in ‘Timon of Athens’ at the National Theatre to ‘Forests’, a new work based around the forest and heath scenes from a variety of Shakespeare plays which is being directed by Calixto Bieito at Birmingham Rep, to a new Welsh language translation of ‘The Tempest’ by Gwyneth Lewis which will be performed at the National Eistedfodd. There is so much going on within the World Shakespeare Festival it is very difficult to grasp all the details. But that is nothing compared to the mass of events under the wider Festival 2012 banner: we had a presentation from Claire Hutchinson from LOCOG, Head of Marketing for Festival 2012, which was mind boggling in terms of the scale and variety of activity due to take place around the country over the coming months. The World Shakespeare Festival starts on 23 April (Shakespeare’s birthday), full details at:

Robin Simpson.

RSC Open Stages update meeting by Robin Simpson
September 30, 2011, 11:17 am
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I was in Stratford-upon-Avon on Thursday to meet Geraldine Collinge and Ian Wainwright at the Royal Shakespeare Company. Our RSC Open Stages project is progressing well: the first of the 263 amateur productions within the project took place in February 2011 on the Isle of Skye and there will be Open Stages productions across the UK through to the end of 2012.

RSC Open Stages map

RSC Open Stages map

We have now completed the programme of skills sharing sessions across the country. The RSC Open Stages Skills Exchange team has travelled 5,047 miles this year, running sessions from Glasgow to Southampton, working with 2,320 amateurs. The learning from these sessions has been immense and, as well as the ways in which amateur theatre groups have benefited from the knowledge and experience of the professionals, it was fascinating to hear how much the RSC has learned about the nature and state of amateur theatre in the UK. On Thursday we discussed how we might use this learning to help to plan further work together after the Open Stages project finishes at the end of 2012. We also discussed details of the regional (and national) Open Stages showcase events being organised by our 10 partner theatres in Spring 2012 and the World Shakespeare Festival/Open Stages performances in July 2012. On 14, 15, 21 and 22 July 2012 at least 10 amateur productions, selected from the Open Stages programme across the UK, will perform in Stratford-upon-Avon as guests of the Royal Shakespeare Company as part of the official World Shakespeare Festival (which is part of London 2012 Festival, the culmination of the Cultural Olympiad). It’s going to be a fantastic opportunity for the chosen groups and a great chance for us to demonstrate the excellent standards achieved by UK amateur theatre groups.

Robin Simpson.

RSC Open Stages takes shape by Robin Simpson
April 27, 2011, 10:47 am
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RSC Open Stages logoOn Tuesday I went to Stratford-upon-Avon looking forward to a peak behind the scenes at the new Royal Shakespeare Theatre but came back buzzing with excitement about our RSC Open Stages project. (And the theatre was quite exciting too!) Open Stages grew out of discussions between Voluntary Arts and the Royal Shakespeare Company about how best to involve amateur theatre in the 2012 World Shakespeare Festival (part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad). After a planning weekend involving 65 representatives of voluntary arts umbrella bodies, in Stratford in November 2009, Open Stages began to take shape as stand-alone project, funded by The Esmee Fairbairn Foundation. Ian Wainwright was appointed as the RSC’s Open Stages Producer in August 2010 and Ian has been working closely with Voluntary Arts and the amateur theatre umbrella bodies to develop the project. At the end of 2010 we invited applications from amateur groups and I can now reveal that 300 amateur productions across the UK have been chosen to be part of RSC Open Stages. These 300 amateur groups, who are creating productions of Shakespeare plays or Shakespeare-related performances, will be branded and marketed by the RSC and will be invited to take-part in a series of 10 regional and national skills-sharing weekends run by the RSC and 10 partner professional theatres. Within each region and nation, several amateur productions will be chosen to be showcased at the partner theatres in Spring 2012 and 10 of these will go forward to perform in Stratford in July 2012 as part of the official World Shakespeare Festival, alongside the RSC’s own productions and professional companies from across the world. The 300 amateur RSC Open Stages productions include performances in forests, castles and stately homes, performances by the John Lewis Partnership amateur dramatics group and by a RAF theatre group involving service personnel just returned from Afghanistan. The response to our call for applications was far in excess of our expectations and Open Stages looks like being a wonderful national celebration of amateur Shakespeare. Ian and I were joined on Tuesday by Tabitha Allum, the Chief Executive of Stagetext, to discuss the use of captioning for the hard of hearing by amateur theatre groups. We agreed to offer all the groups involved in Open Stages the opportunity to receive training from Stagetext in how to introduce live captioning to their performances.

More details of RSC Open Stages at and lots of discussion at

Robin Simpson.

The RSC Open Stages map

The RSC Open Stages map