ISCA visit Stratford-upon-Avon 2015
“Brevity is the soul of wit” – Hamlet, Act II Scene II
And yet, today, the ISCA students had such a packed day of Shakespeare-related excitement, that it would be very difficult to be brief about their visit to Stratford-on-Avon.
After locating the recently-renovated Art Deco RSC Theatre by the River Avon, groups of students headed off in different directions to explore. Each had the opportunity for a backstage tour of the theatre. Since it was a daytime trip, we witnessed sets being constructed and taken down for the rep-style performances of Othello and The Merchant of Venice, both of which are currently running in Stratford. Knowledgeable guides explained the basis of quick-change costumes, which often use magnets as fastenings to allow a changing time for actors that can be as short as twenty seconds. Costume types range from modern to period dress, and some of the especially exotic costumes from past performances are still displayed around the theatre. The guides described the use of trapdoors and flying harnesses onstage and stressed the importance of including the entire audience when using the jutting stage of the theatre, which is exposed to rows of seating on three sides.
There was the chance to participate in a more detailed tour of Stratford itself with Matthew Edwards, encompassing points of interest along the Avon (including the only chain ferry in England) and the grave of Shakespeare in Holy Trinity Church. From city records, it is known that Shakespeare was both born and died on 26 April. In due course we visited his birthplace, an Elizabethan house that has been preserved partly due to the involvement of other English greats such as Charles Dickens. Lucky weather meant that the students could witness outdoor performance of Shakespeare soliloquies and scenes on-demand. Actors in the garden of the house would take requests for particular scenes from particular plays, and then perform them complete with period costume. Especially intriguing was a speech taken from the part of Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which Puck performed some acrobatics that really brought the speech to life.
Tomorrow ISCA heads back to London, to visit both the Science Museum and Westminster Abbey. The latter of these has been at the heart of British pageantry for centuries; the other is an example of how Britain was to enter a more modern era…