Guest Blog: Simultaneous Shakespeare, Further ThoughtsDate: 1 November 2011
Student Nicola Pollard is directing an ambitious project that will see her stage two productions of The Two Gentlemen of Verona at the same time in two different locations - Exeter and Cambridge.
Deborah Shaw is an incredible woman. She is directing the World Shakespeare Festival, due to take place next year, across the globe. I’ve just watched an interview with her on the Festival website, in which she says, among other insights, that the Festival has already been about four and a half years in the making. That means that I hadn’t even begun studying at Cambridge when initial work for the Festival had begun.
When the final performance finishes I will have almost completed a two-year Masters course. I can’t imagine undertaking anything with that long a time span. ‘Simultaneous’ will have been a year in the making by the time we perform, from those beginnings of an idea to the one-off performance. She says it’s an ‘incredible undertaking’ – her Festival not ‘Simultaneous’ – but I think that’s an understatement.
The Festival will feature people of all ages from across the world. In the interview alone Shaw mentions students in Iraq and performers from Wales; the diversity is amazing. My cast isn’t as diverse as that but we’re not doing too badly. (Although one of my actors was quoted as saying: ‘We’re so international, we’re like NATO.’) Thanks to the attraction of my Masters course we have North Americans in our cast, and a variety of English accents. (To quote one of them from yesterday: ‘I am actually Northern.’)
My cast and production team are diverse not only in their nationality but also in their skills. A wide range of past experience within a cast is beneficial to a director like me, as there are some aspects of performance technique in which I lack experience. For example, I know a couple of energising games for actors, but one of my cast members has so many helpful methods that I’d never seen before. I had a friend of mine come to rehearsal last week to work with the cast on movement specific to our period – again she could demonstrate the specific details that I couldn’t.
Studying at Exeter has given me access to people with experiences and talents unlike anything I’ve ever had the opportunity to learn. It’s tremendously useful to have three peers trained in stage combat when you’re doing ‘Cymbeline’ or the like. The skill set is right there, you don’t have to look anywhere else. How enriching it must be for directors in professional theatre to have access to experts in all aspects of theatre, people who have honed and developed their craft during years of experience. Additionally, how exciting it must be to be part of a global or international festival, especially one with the stamp of institutions such as the Globe or the RSC.
Shaw also said that the World Shakespeare Festival aims to incorporate the ‘digital tools’ which allow the Festival to be extended to people in ‘far-flung’ corners of the world. I don’t think Exeter would take too kindly to being described as a ‘far-flung’ corner, but ‘Simultaneous’ certainly hopes to use digital tools to share a night of theatre between two otherwise unlinked cities. This brings me back to the idea I raised a few blogs ago, what is it about Shakespeare that makes us want to engage with big projects? I don’t think it’s really a question that has one single answer, and in a way it doesn’t matter – the fact is that these festivals and experiences are staged and designed to be enjoyed by audiences and performers. If they succeed in that then something is going the way it should.
PS. I have booked my ticket for the WOS Awards. Little bit excited!
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