First and foremost I hope all our Shakespeare Live members are safe and well and coping successfully with whatever strains these difficult times are imposing on you.
Next, a very sincere apology. We sent an update for members at the end of June, with news of our plans and projects for the future and of our hopes of putting a little taste of Shakespeare in front of an audience before the summer is out. This included, of course, an invitation to members to tell us if they were interested in joining in this enterprise. It has now become clear that this newsletter failed to reach a substantial number of the people it was intended for. We still don’t quite understand the technical hitch that caused this problem – although we hope to have avoided a repetition with this current message – but the unfortunate consequence is that a number of people were denied the opportunity to put themselves forward to take part. It has caused understandable annoyance and disappointment, which is needless to say the exact opposite of what we hoped and intended! I am so sorry, and want to assure you that we will do all we can to ensure that future communications are received by all our members.
There are in fact plenty of positives to share with you, as you will have seen if you did receive the previous newsletter. ‘Shakespeare in Isolation’ turned out to be a three week festival of little daily gems showcasing the creativity of our members. Huge thanks and congratulations go to all those who contributed in such varied and imaginative ways – and particularly to James who masterminded the project and did all the technical stuff. If you haven’t yet had a chance to enjoy them, the full collection is still available on YouTube (add link) and is well worth dipping into.
Like everything else this summer, our touring show has been subject to a rethink. Once the RSC’s programme at The Dell was finally abandoned this year we decided to put ‘Hamlet Act 6’ on hold and hope to be able to run it at The Dell and our local touring venues in 2021. This ingenious and entertaining piece was sourced and will be directed by Alison Paine, who is a welcome newcomer to Shakespeare Live, and it sees the famously grim death toll at the end of the play gradually reversed, to great comic effect. Peering into our crystal ball we have high hopes of bringing that to the stage next year and expect to be auditioning and assembling a cast probably in the late spring.
Meanwhile, as soon as we saw a glimmering of hope that some open-air performances might be possible this year we decided we must have something ready to perform even if we were unsure when or where it might see the light of day. Accordingly ‘Of Love and Laughter’ is now in rehearsal. The show is a compilation of light and comic scenes from a number of plays – some better known than others – that can be rehearsed and performed by six actors while maintaining social distancing. It is directed by Gill Morrell and the latest news is that the trustees of Cleeve House have agreed to host two outdoor performances there on Saturday 12th September at 12 noon and 4pm. Audiences will be carefully distanced and therefore limited to 100 per performance, and the simplicity of the set-up will mirror the arrangements at The Dell with audiences providing their own seating and no use of artificial lighting. Information on how to book will follow shortly and will be posted on the website and social media, with first priority for booking going to our members. We look forward with great excitement to welcoming many of our members and regular audience to enjoy a little splash of live theatre after such a long drought. Beyond that, we are negotiating to see what may be possible in the way of performances at indoor venues in the autumn.
It is good to be able to report that Lenka and Yulian at Cleeve House are very enthusiastic about hosting this show, having been deprived of the main event in the summer. They and the trustees, together with a host of energetic young volunteers, are engaged in a major clear up operation to prepare the house for a new phase in its life as it begins to open up again. The good news for us is that they are keen to see a summer Shakespeare extravaganza as part of that new phase! So we can look forward with confidence and optimism to taking The Winter’s Tale out of the deep freeze and starting again from where we were so rudely interrupted in March.
Finally, some sad news to share particularly with some of our longest-standing members: we heard recently of the death of Elizabeth Gradwell, who was the founder and director of Shakespeare at Sheldon. Established by Elizabeth in 1979, Shakespeare at Sheldon inaugurated the tradition of open-air Shakespeare in North Wiltshire, performing shows at Sheldon Manor for ten years, and it was the direct forerunner of Shakespeare Live. Those of us who, in 1989, carried the torch on into the newly formed Shakespeare Live company owe a great deal to the vision, inspiration and enthusiasm of Elizabeth, who first introduced us to the joys of outdoor Shakespeare. We remember her with great fondness and gratitude and we extend our sympathy and condolences to her family.
We wish our members all the very best as we start tentatively to resume some aspects of a ‘normal’ life and we look forward impatiently to the time when we can all meet and perform together again.
Shakespeare Live Trustees