I’m not accustomed to directing productions with large budgets. Actually, scratch that, I’m not accustomed to directing productions with much of a budget at all. Ergo, when Exeter University offered a privately donated sum to fund any Shakespeare play to be performed in any manner, I was interested.
I’m studying a two-year Staging Shakespeare Masters in Exeter Drama Department, so old Shakes is my bag. £600 seemed a lot of money – although anything above £40 sounds a lot of money to an unfunded Masters student but let’s not go into that. (The fund was then upped to £1000 – bonus!)
I applied for the fund early this year, with an idea I’d dreamt up one November day. At the time it was just a pipe dream, but the Cymbeline Fund could make it happen. You may have experienced NT Live, whereby the National Theatre transmit a production live to cinemas across the UK. (My one attempt to attend a showing was scuppered by a major traffic jam on a dual carriageway. Not my fault, I hasten to add.)
The idea of transmitting live theatre across the nation is exciting, and judging by ticket sales, a popular one. I started to wonder if theatre could be shared with cinema audiences, could theatre be shared with theatre audiences? I had an image of two productions (let’s start small) of the same play, starting at the same time. I imagined the stage managers contacting each other across the miles to synchronise the openings of the shows, as stage hands, lighting operators, actors and audiences eagerly anticipated the green light. (Clearly my mind runs away with me sometimes – I’m struggling to find one lighting operator let alone many!) Miraculously, the interval comes to both these productions at the same time, and the curtains fall simultaneously to rapturous applause as flowers are thrown onto the stage. (I’m not sure what time period my imagination operates in…)
For once my imaginings have come to fruition. At the end of November Simultaneous Shakespeare is due to take place in Exeter and Cambridge. The Two Gentlemen of Verona is to be performed by two casts, at the same time with (hopefully) a live video feed between the venues. It might even be possible to screen the Cambridge production in Exeter and vice versa, to the side of the audience, on mute, allowing audiences to see the differences between the two interpretations. The sets should be identical, but we plan to present the play in two different time periods. Our current plan is two casts of ten, with a few actors engaging in multi-rolling. I have my directors in place (one being myself), venues agreed and the beginnings of creative teams. Finding two casts from within the two universities is next on the to-do list.
My Mum calls this a challenge, I sometimes call it a nightmare, my Technical Director (Cambridge) thinks it’s a really exciting idea, as do some other people I’ve spoken to. I recently read Nick Asbury’s ‘Exit Pursued by a Badger’, the published blog written during rehearsals and performances of the RSC’s Histories Cycle, 2007-8. My project is nothing like that scale, I’m a much smaller fish in a far less complex waterway, but I’m inspired by Nick and his colleagues to go for something less-than-ordinary. And I thought I’d write about it so you can share this tumultuous journey with me, my crews and casts.
As my friend Evelyn says: “We are flexible, we are adaptable and everything will be OK”…