I recently had the opportunity to tour Oxford, London and Stratford-Upon-Avon to witness all-things Shakespeare. While I work with “words” for a living, my husband does as well, albeit in a slightly different manner. He is a professor of acting, specializing in voice and movement at Columbus State University. He planned and guided seven eager students through various locations, experiences and exhibits all focused on their collective hero, the Bard.
Our first stop and home base was the lovely Spencer house in Oxford, England. The school places a high value on its international programs and generous patrons assist deserving students in these endeavors. “The University of Oxford” is comprised of a multitude of individual colleges. Here is a handy infographic outlining all it has to offer. In regards to Shakespeare, we visited an exhibition titled “Shakespeare’s Dead,” which is on display at the famous Bodleian Library. The timing of the exhibition marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and showcased the theme of death itself in Shakespeare's works. A description of the exhibit states, “Shakespeare could hardly be more alive, in theatre, in popular culture, and in scholarship.” From what I witnessed, I couldn’t agree more.
Our next adventure was a pilgrimage to Shakespeare’s birthplace and home, Stratford-Upon-Avon. In keeping with the death theme, we visited Holy Trinity church, where Shakespeare, his wife Anne Hathaway and several of his family members were prominently laid to rest. Our trip coincided with the height of the Pokemon Go craze and the local clergy had a fabulous sense of humor about the phenomenon, as there were posters on the property stating, “Looking for Pokemon, Shakespeare or Jesus…THEY ARE ALL FOUND HERE!”
From there we toured Shakespeare’s birthplace, which featured an array of costumed guides discussing his father’s leather glove trade and details of growing up in the plague-ridden time. There is a lovely garden where players roam and seek volunteers to share their favorite monologues. We capped the day off with a behind-the-scenes tour of the Royal Shakespeare Company and a stellar performance of Hamlet. In this version, Hamlet was set in Ghana and the King and Queen of Denmark were reimagined as African royalty. Hamlet was a student of modern art and his infamous fight with Laertes is portrayed with sticks instead of swords. The production was dazzling and we all left feeling inspired that Shakespeare is as relevant today as ever.
The next adaptation the students experienced was the West End production of Romeo Juliet, starring Lily James of Downton Abbey and Cinderella fame. This fast-paced production started out with a bang, but ended with a whimper, as the second act was much less entertaining than the first. Additionally, Richard Madden, the former Rob Stark of Game of Thrones was a no-show that evening as Romeo, leaving the group with an understudy.
However, we quickly learned not to knock an understudy when we saw The Taming of the Shrew at The Globe Theatre the next day. The lead role of Kate in The Taming of the Shrew was deftly portrayed by the understudy. In fact, this production turned out to be the group’s collective favorite. The recreated Globe Theatre is a sturdy, fire-resistant structure with a thatched roof and multiple stories of seating areas for patrons willing to pay extra for a seat and a cushion. The real show is on the ground floor. The students got in line an hour before the production and their patience paid off. They were able to lean on the stage and interact with the players throughout the show. They experienced what the original “groundlings” did, just as Shakespeare intended. This production of Taming of the Shrew was set to the Easter Rising of 1916 in Ireland. No detail was overlooked, from the costumes to the traditional Irish folk music and timber of the players’ voices.
Our journey concluded with an outdoor, evening production of Love’s Labour’s Lost. Even though it was early August, the evening required wool blankets and hot tea once the sun retreated. This version was set in the 1960’s and was both whimsical and hilarious. The cast even transitioned into one of their songs with a random verse from “Aquarius.” The lads and ladies were dressed in their 60’s finest, including bell bottoms and wide-collared shirts. Once again, audience interaction was a major part of the production and quickly endeared everyone to the cast. On the evening of our last production, I noticed that “the Americans” were always the most boisterous of the crowd and we were the only ones to give a standing ovation.
The central themes of storytelling and audience interaction resonated with me because we encourage our clients to use these tools to their fullest in the corporate world. Remember, “all the world’s a stage…” and I encourage you to take note from the performers who put their hearts and souls into each production and bring your subject to life through a commitment to rehearsal and real passion.
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