What: The Shakespearience Too
Who: The Shakespearience Production Company
Where: Ravenscourt Arts, Hammersmith, London
When: March 2015
In 2009, I had a dream. I mean literally. I had a dream. I woke up in my hotel in Stratford-Upon-Avon with a notion that I should start a theatre company that would present Shakespeare for schoolchildren in a way that would be informative, entertaining and educational. I was in town to review a play by the Bard but I have to say that I can’t even remember which one. But I do remember what happened next.
In Stratford there is a tribute to some firefighters who died in a blaze trying to save lives. Near there I heard some buskers trying to gather money for their playing. Now in Stratford-Upon-Avon you hear many buskers but these were good. I mean really good. You can read more about them at http://www.perkelt.com .
I watched and listened for twenty minutes and with my dream and the music buzzing around my head like a particularly angry bee, I tried to figure it all out. I returned at lunchtime to find them still playing and when they broke for food and drinks, I approached them to make a proposal. And then found out that they could speak only limited English. Somehow or other we figured out that I wanted to take them out for dinner and bring a dictionary. This was getting crazier by the minute.
That evening I hired them to play music for a theatre company that didn’t even exist. Now I was getting way out of my depth. I had a band in period costume with period instruments and great music but no actors and this crazy idea of working with schools. The only problem was the schools didn’t know anything about my ambitions yet.
A couple of days later, I wandered into an art gallery in Sheep Street, Stratford and met a guy called Garrick Huscared who was a little larger than life. He told me about his art gallery which was meant to display only art inspired by Shakespeare and I told him about my seedling idea of a schools’ project. He wanted in. And I said I would help him to promote his art gallery.
Having seen the RSC production I was there to see, I headed home to write wise and witty words about it. I started to talk to schools and found out there was now real interest. It now had a name. I called it “The Shakespearience” – the Shakespeare Experience, if you see what I mean. By now the art gallery in Stratford had closed and Mr Huscared could no longer be involved in what I was doing but I was grateful to him because he had given me a continuation of the momentum that my dream had given me which if it was just me and my idea might have died out a little while ago.
He had also given me the name of someone I should contact who might be the guy to help me to take it forward. Richard Evans. Richard was also a large character but very different from Garrick. He is known for playing Henry VIII and is an interesting and amiable guy. We sat in a cafe in Victoria Station and talked about ideas and actors and rehearsals. A few months later we had a bus, some props, some costumes and a list of schools that wanted to see our cast of 6. It was very successful.
We’d arrive at a school get into costume, perform, make the kids hate Lady Macbeth or love Romeo and Juliet and then get back on the coach and head for the next school. It was hard work but fun and very worthwhile. It was very successful but we all knew that we’d probably not do anything like that again.
Or at least not in that way. The following year saw work take place on our theatre, “Ravenscourt Arts” and by 2012 it was open and up and running (how we came to have our own theatre space is another story). Unfortunately, my health took a battering that year and after working hard to put together the ensemble for our Shakespearience, I had to take very much a back seat for the actual run. Grim times.
Well, to cut a long story short, my health is good and we’re gearing up to provide a whole new version of the Shakespearience for our young audience as we enter our third season in March. Perkelt are once more on-board and this time with a group of songs from Shakespeare’s canon that they are currently working on. Richard is back once more and he and I will be at the helm.
Last week saw our auditions and we’re putting together the cast. This week, bookings are open and local schools with young people aged 9-13 should get in touch and confirm their seats. It looks like it is going to be a splendid time and we believe that we have discovered some really gifted people – both those with great long CVs and oodles of stage and TV experience and those who are new to the trade but who we hope are going to be stars for the future.
Sometimes you have to work on those dreams.