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120 performers Shake Up Shakespeare!
November 13th, 2012
After nine weeks of rehearsals, frantic line-learning, and many angst-ridden mental risk assessments on my part, we finally reached the Shake up Shakespeare Festival. Over 1,600 people experienced Shakespeare either by watching or taking part.
Much of the week was taken up with Othello, our three-hander which has been touring schools for eight weeks in co-production with The Rose Theatre in Kingston. It has been very exciting for me to watch Othello visiting schools, and I have enjoyed being grilled by students in workshops afterwards as they hack my adaptation apart. There’s always a lot of discussion about the ending and whether or not they liked it. I sometimes think there is no audience quite so critical and discerning as thirty A Level English or Drama students.
I think the festival summed up, in six days, how I feel about my job here all year round. Especially on the final day, on which we had The Bard Unbound, our community Shakespeare night involving over 120 performers from 8 to 80 years. I was anxious, obviously. Will our volunteer performers, unused to the tiny amount of space backstage, be alright? Will we be able to squeeze 120 actors, plus a choir, plus a maximum capacity audience into the restaurant and bar? Where on earth will everyone park? How do the Outreach team feel about all this extra work? And then I felt ridiculously lacking in faith as I watched all these problems be solved, in front of my eyes, by my colleagues. Heidi and Sarah, my fellow Outreach-ers, never stopped smiling (even when someone had to drop out at the very last minute). The stage management team, backed up by three super student volunteers, seemed to know the show better than I did. Julie P, our Admin Secretary, and General Manager, Clare, made shuttle trips all day to the overflow car park. Miraculously there seemed to be enough space – even for the hog roast. Lawrence, the Production Manager, even managed to find time to suggest a glitter drop at the final moment (this made me so happy I did a little dance up the spiral staircase and nearly put my back out).
And then, at some point in the middle of the afternoon, I encountered Malvolio rehearsing in the garden, a piece of Othello busily being practiced under the office staircase, and the cast of A Midsummer Night’s Dream entertaining someone who was trying to buy coffee in the bar. I saw a primary school headteacher rehearsing with his co-stars – seven 9 year olds and a drama graduate in her early twenties. Three mothers performing alongside five twelve year old boys. And this is what the glory of it all is: literally hundreds of people with all sorts of other things to do in their busy lives putting that on hold, so that they can experience a bit of artistic magic for a day.
One of the performers told me the next day that it was the fulfilment of a 30 year long dream to perform at The Watermill. So I end it all by thanking my lucky stars that I have this funny old job, helping these hundreds of nuggets of dreams to come true, for a moment.
Beth Flintoff – Watermill Outreach Director
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Sam November 13th, 2012 at 10:45 pm
There is no place on earth like The Watermill, thanks for that beautiful insight Beth x