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Erica Whyman on the RSC's mass-participation event, new musical Swingin' the Dream and 2021 hopes

The venue's deputy artistic director chatted about the venue's digital and in-person events

Erica Whyman
© RSC, photo by Topher McGrillis

"We're making yet another set of plans to try and open with social distancing in the spring."

The RSC's deputy artistic director Erica Whyman, who spoke to WhatsOnStage just before Christmas (and, notably, before the new variant pushed up Covid numbers across the UK), is speaking about her company's plethora of projects itching to reach audiences.

Some, like her production of A Winter's Tale, were stalled by the pandemic's first outbreak last March (the show will hopefully be in front of audiences later this year). Another is the jazz-infused musical Swingin' the Dream', which is set to be presented this coming weekend in a virtual concert production, co-created with the Young Vic and US-based Theatre for a New Audience.

Things look slightly brighter than they were at a few points in 2020, according to Whyman: "We are now, of course, in receipt of a loan (part of the Government's Cultural Recovery Fund) and we're very glad about that relief. It gives us a little bit of wiggle room and, with the combination of vaccinations and treatment, it means the idea of opening by the spring or summer looks more positive." With plans changing every other week at the moment, like venues across the world things are obviously not set in stone.

A Winter's Tale was five days away from going on stage in March (the venue has kept on its company of actors and stage managers throughout the pandemic, performing various bits and bobs), and Whyman thinks it'll be the perfect show to return with: "It's about what happens when people are allowed too much space in their own brains and they don't listen to others...followed by the most wonderful transformation to hope and spring and the possibility of us all coming back to life."

Shakespeare couldn't name his religion

Whyman is also excited about Swingin' the Dream – which she describes as "effectively a workshop in public" – a chance for RSC supporters to see how shows come together and the growth that comes with that: "We haven't got the resources for full rehearsals or full productions, but we have got hearts and minds and voices."

Another virtual event will the RSC's "Young Bloods" performances – where young people choose scenes that are relevant to them (as Whyman puts it: "Shakespeare writes brilliantly for young people and they're choosing Shakespeare scenes that reflect concerns – at a time when I think there's a lot of fear.")

Looking into 2021, Whyman is also leading an exciting project alongside the Coventry City of Culture programme (particularly for this WOS writer, who hails from the area). Titled Faith, the mass-participation event will explore aspects of personal belief across what is, for Whyman, "a very multi-faith city with a proud history of working across faiths".

The link between faith and the RSC is a juicy one, Whyman explains: "The connection for me, between being a Shakespeare company and working on faith, is that he writes brilliantly about how human beings need faith, even when in his time, he couldn't name his religion. We still don't know – there is a lot of scholarship about it."

But there's a lot to unpack: "It is a tension in British life that we find it really uncomfortable to talk about religion." While still in its infancy (the company is aware that social distancing measures may still need to be implemented), Whyman teased some "exciting visual ideas" for the September run.

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