Celebrating William Shakespeare’s 450th Birthday: Ian Wainwright, Producer of Open Stages, Royal Shakespeare Company tells us about how the project is bringing the Bard’s work to life.
It’s Saturday night and I’m in Bournemouth watching a Maths lecturer being urged to commit bloody murder by a housewife from Southampton. This comes as no surprise to me as on Friday I watched a GP from Stockport as he was banished for alleged adultery with her husband’s friend. Thursday I witnessed a group, including a number of pensioners, a graphic designer, an IT consultant and a pub landlady publically hack to death a police officer in a village hall in Hitchin. Wednesday was no picnic either as I watched, with mounting horror, a young Politics Student from Leeds commit regicide, drown his brother in a vat of wine, and amongst others, secretly murder two children who also happened to be his nephews, all in Leicester Cathedral.
This however is no gothic crime wave; it is of course Shakespeare, and the productions of Macbeth, The Winter’s Tale, Julius Caesar and Richard III, all being performed by amateur theatre companies taking part in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Open Stages project.
The project sees 100 amateur theatre makers from all walks of life come together to take part in workshops, training and mentoring with professionals from the RSC and six other professional theatres across the country.
This month we begin the performance phase of the project with all 100 companies performing a Shakespeare or Shakespeare inspired piece of theatre between now and April 2015.
Those involved come from all over the UK from Enniskillen to Llanymynech, from Putney to Kirkcaldy, with venues ranging from a disused swimming pool in Glasgow to a quarry in Durham.
Why? Because the words of Shakespeare belong to everyone to perform as well listen to. Because the art of theatre making also belongs to everyone, not just the highly trained professional actor or the Oxbridge educated director. Because amateur theatre is where many of us fell in love with theatre and indeed Shakespeare in the first place.
Therefore if we can share some of the skills, knowledge and ideas of professional theatre then amateurs can gain new skills and develop their work. In this way amateur theatre makers can continue to wow their audiences while finding new audiences, and theatre makers, to introduce to the life changing magic of theatre. Many of those we meet are experienced performers, our professional practitioners are impressed by the talent and commitment of those they meet, but all show a real appreciation of the opportunity to learn new things.
It is worth pointing out that Open Stages is a two-way process. Talking to, working with and seeing the work of, just some of the UK’s estimated one million amateur theatre makers, you quickly learn that theatre is much more than a profession or an industry. You find theatre answers a very human need to gather together, to tell stories, to pretend, to show off, to act out what it means to be human beings. And the desire to perform Shakespeare unpaid, against the odds, often on limited resources, while juggling busy lives, demonstrates the power of a playwright who 400 years since his death is still able to speak to us about who we are.