10,000 life-like Shakespeare masks to be given away to Bard fans at Stratford-upon-Avon birthday celebrations!

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[Shakespeare Mask and painting by artist Geoffrey Tristram]

A commemorative Shakespeare Mask will be issued as a souvenir for 10,000 visitors to Stratford-upon-Avon on Shakespeare’s birthday. The gift comes courtesy of parade organisers Shakespeare’s Celebrations, who are preparing the 2016 festivities to mark 400 years since Shakespeare’s death.

During the traditional Quill and Flag Unfurling ceremonies at the heart of this year’s Birthday Parade, the Master of Ceremonies will invite the crowds to put on their masks and give ‘Three Cheers for Shakespeare!’
On the reverse of the mask, there’s a quick and easy guide to the Birthday Parade and other events on the day. Students from local schools will be distributing the 10,000 Shakespeare Masks from around 9:30 on the morning of 23 April in the town centre.

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In 2015, Stratford-on-Avon District Council and Stratford-upon-Avon Town Council jointly commissioned the development of a portrait of the Bard which could be used to create a novel celebrity face mask. The image had to be a recognisable likeness of William Shakespeare, in a high definition, photographic quality for production as a cardboard face mask.

Mike Gittus, Chairman of Stratford District Council said: “This was always going to be a challenge with Shakespeare’s death having been early in the 17th century, long before any form of camera. We concluded that just as important as the accuracy of the image of the mask, it had to be publicly recognisable as that of the famous Bard of Avon. Most importantly the chosen image had to be capable of being converted into a full frontal face mask.

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“We knew that when ‘the world’ ponders on Shakespeare, it sees in its mind’s eye the famous Droeshout engraving of him. This is the picture inside the First Folio of his collected works printed in 1623 and the accuracy of this engraving was endorsed by his contemporary Ben Jonson. The choice was suddenly made simple. Armed with world famous picture, the search was on for an artist to produce a suitable version for conversion into a mask.”

The call was successfully answered by local artist Geoffrey Tristram. Based in Stourbridge, West Midlands and with a lifetime’s experience as a painter and illustrator, Geoff set about discovering what Shakespeare really looked like.

He takes up the tale: “I’m a meticulous kind of fellow and looked at many images of the Bard, taking countless measurements of facial features, cross referencing and overlaying them. I also studied colouring and texture of skin. Gradually, a shape common to several portraits emerged which fitted remarkably closely to the famous Droeshout engraving. But it views the subject at an angle, so my research helped me create a new, head-on view of the face. A typical Elizabethan ruff completed the picture and my portrait became a very convincing Bard!”

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Geoff was so encouraged by the results of the project that he proposed a second portrait, an oil on canvas which he’s also now completed.

Both portraits will be on private display in the Town Hall over the Birthday Weekend, 20-24 April, transferring for public display to the reception area of Stratford-on-Avon District Council in Elizabeth House for the following week to coincide with the Stratford Literary Festival.

Go here for the official Shakespeare’s Celebrations website.

“Let me put it to you this way: No one has ever successfully ripped off the Folger Library…” Guarding Shakespeare author Quintin Peterson takes us into the high-security vaults of Washington D.C.’s Shakespeare treasure house

I’ve often jokingly said words to the effect of “Bloody Americans! Nicking all our Folios…” So it amused me greatly that Guarding Shakespeare’s opening scene featured a couple of Brits saying something similar. Have you encountered many English people who really do feel that way?

“I started working for the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Department of Safety and Security in December 2010, after I retired from the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department. In the four years I have worked there, only one British gentleman who visited the library expressed that sentiment. I reminded him that all of the Folger Library’s copies of the First Folio were purchased, not pilfered.”

The next thing I noticed is that your book is virtually a How-To guide to robbing the Folger Library! Do you worry you may have given too much away?

“Not at all. Like all good fiction authors, I mix lies with the truth. Any thief who attempts to use Guarding Shakespeare as a how-to guide to try to rip off the Folger Library is in for a rude awakening. I used the Folger Library as the backdrop for a good old-fashioned heist story, but I didn’t give away the farm. I would never put the library’s security at risk for the sake of a story. I write crime fiction, noir mysteries, thrillers and simply followed the guidelines for creating an entertaining noir heist story. However, this story enlightens as well as entertains.”

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I was reminded of Ian Fleming’s note at the beginning of From Russia With Love, where he mentions the accuracy of his descriptions of people and places. Were all your Folger descriptions real or did you invent some rooms, passageways and so on?

“That certainly is not true of my depiction of the Folger Shakespeare Library, except for the common areas open to the general public. Guarding Shakespeare is part fact, part fancy. Like I said, I mix lies with the truth.”

Apart from the main conspirators, how many of the characters are real Folger people? I noticed you gave yourself a cameo role…

“Characters in the book who have anything to do with the plot are purely fictitious. The rest are actual people the fictional characters either interact with in passing, or who witness the actions of the fictional characters. Fact and fiction collide. It’s also my way of acknowledging coworkers.”

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I didn’t appreciate until fairly recently how important the Folger is as a storehouse of Shakespeare treasures and a centre of study. Your book conveys a sense of it as a place of almost religious significance…

“It is. People from around the globe come to the Folger to either work with rare materials housed there or to appreciate the various exhibitions on display in the Great Hall. One of the best exhibits was Manifold Greatness: The Life and Afterlife of the King James Bible. The exhibit consisted of various King James Bibles – one owned by Queen Elizabeth I, another by Elvis Presley, which he’d acquired from the Estate of Frederick Douglass, et al. And yet always on display in the Great Hall, no matter what exhibit is featured, is one of the Folger’s 82 First Folios. It occurred to me that the two most influential books of the English language were on display together. For the first time, perhaps…”

Another Ian Fleming comparison is the audacious scheme to heist Fort Knox in Goldfinger. Has anyone ever actually succeeded in robbing the Folger in real life?

“Let me put it to you this way: No one has ever successfully ripped off the Folger Library.”

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I know that real-life criminal gangs are increasingly targeting rare books, but the target in Guarding Shakespeare isn’t actually a book, is it?

“No. Nefarious businessman Rupert Whyte describes the MacGuffin – the object of desire – as something so small, all protagonist Special Police Officer Lt. Norman Blalock need do is put it in his shirt pocket and then just walk out of the Folger Library.”

And it does seem entirely plausible that the Folger could have acquired some amazing Shakespeare items without anyone realising quite what they were…

“Yes. In my novel, the object of desire is hidden inside of a jewelry box the Folger Library recently acquired.”

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You also touch on the frightening idea of what would happen if an unstable employee went berserk in the Folger. It’s a chilling reminder that Shakespeare books and artefacts are vulnerable to vandalism – as well as the kind of cultural terrorism practiced by IS.

“Yes. It’s one of the reasons why the Folger Library has its own Department of Safety and Security, not only to safeguard the collection, but its employees and visitors as well.”

Finally, can you tell us one mind-blowing fact about the Folger that didn’t make it into your book?

“The underground complex of the Folger Shakespeare Library is a bunker. In that bunker along with priceless treasures is the Special Collection, consisting of works of fiction depicting scene(s) inside of the Folger Library or that merely make mention of the library. Guarding Shakespeare is among them. However, it is the only work of fiction that is actually about the Folger Library. My novel has gone where no crime fiction has gone before.

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“On Thursday, 23 April, 2015, I autographed 30 copies of Guarding Shakespeare for the Folger Shakespeare Memorial Library’s Board of Governors, and inscribed each book: ‘All the world’s a stage…’

“Coincidentally, 23 April is Shakespeare’s birthday, but it is also the day I retired from the Metropolitan Police Department. D.C., five years ago, after more than 28 years of public service. It was a great day.”

UK readers order Guarding Shakespeare here.

US readers order Guarding Shakespeare here.

An intrepid crew of London-based Shakespeareans have just made theatrical history with the first cue script performance at Bankside’s Rose Playhouse since 1606. Lizzie Conrad Hughes of the salon: collective explains how they did it

Akilah Dale as Phoebe, Ricardo Freitas as Silvius

Akilah Dale as Phoebe, Ricardo Freitas as Silvius

We call it Shakespeare: Direct. Why the name? Because working from cue script parts in the style of Early Modern players – the first modern actors – means that you are directed directly through the text by the play’s writer, just as his own players were – so you are in direct contact with Shakespeare.

Cue script work means you prepare your part, your costume, and your character, but you do not know who else is in your scene, what they will say, or do, or how that will affect you, until you both meet on stage before an audience. And it is not enough to stand on stage and just speak – you have to deliver a performance. And you have to listen like your life depends on it not to miss your cue.

Ricardo Freitas as Hubert, Paula Parducz as Prince Arthur

Ricardo Freitas as Hubert, Paula Parducz as Prince Arthur

It has been said that cue script acting puts you right in the heart of the moment, but at no time are you in control of it – it’s a bit like juggling fire. This fire juggling makes the work very alive and gives us a glimpse of what performances may have been like back in Shakespeare’s day, with vibrantly alive actors hanging on each other’s every word.

Plus, sometimes an actor will receive a cue more than once – in other words, Shakespeare set up his actors to attempt to interrupt each other, which also helped to keep the action on stage fresh and exciting.

Anna Hawkes as Lady Percy

Anna Hawkes as Lady Percy

The moment I discovered The Rose Playhouse in May 2014, hidden under an office building beside Southwark Bridge, I knew what I had to do. The Rose is the site of Philip Henslowe’s playhouse, home to the Admiral’s Men, and site of Will Shakespeare’s own apprenticeship as player and playwright. It’s two minutes’ walk from Shakespeare’s Globe on the Bankside of the Thames, but it’s The Real Thing. And it’s very cold and they have no plumbing, as it’s a theatre in an archaeological site.

I’d been experimenting with First Folio text-based cue script acting for a few months, encouraged by my husband and fellow Shakespeare geek Dewi Hughes, and a growing group of fellow actors. We were gradually unearthing the acting secrets buried in the text by their writer/director and previously excavated by cue script pioneer Patrick Tucker. I’d read his book, Secrets of Acting Shakespeare, and been wildly inspired to try it out.

Lawrence Carmichael looking over the remains of The Rose

Lawrence Carmichael looking over the remains of The Rose

The work was embryonic still, but fascinating and ridiculously addictive. Finding The Rose, the spiritual home of cue script acting, it seemed tailor-made – all we had to do was bring the two things together.

On Sunday 29 March 2015 we performed at The Rose before an invited audience. There were 20 of us – 12 who knew what they were in for, and eight cue script novices who had no idea. We normally work in the studios at The Cockpit in Marylebone, so the echoing cavern and enigmatic great lake that covers The Rose meant a real change of pace.

Lizzie Conrad Hughes as Cleopatra

Lizzie Conrad Hughes as Cleopatra

We presented ten scenes from plays ranging from King John to As You Like It. Each scene begins and ends with a bell rung by the Book-holder – the prompter, who sits in the audience. Prompting was built into the process of the playhouses – their audiences knew they were watching a play and had no problem when a prompt was required. Nor did ours on Sunday. One audience member commented that it made her feel a part of the creative process, as the scene was created before her eyes.

Kim Hardy as Hotspur, Lawrence Carmichael as Northumberland

Kim Hardy as Hotspur, Lawrence Carmichael as Northumberland

Everyone taking part in this work did an all-day class to learn all the hidden secrets of the First Folio and get a feeling for being directed by the text. Then they received their part (around 40 lines and associated cues), which they had to study for text clues before their first one hour session with their ‘Verse Nurser’.

At this point we make sure they have any necessary info about their character and the story so far in the play, and check that they understand all their words and are on track with their study. They then get off book before session two, which is more about the physical performance, including potential movement in the scene.

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We have historical precedent for this – and besides, it makes practical theatrical sense! ‘VN’ and line learning takes three weeks. On performance day, we had a practical session of entrances and exits, changes in costume, and any physical business. Again, there is precedent for this – it’s about the only kind of practical preparation there was before a performance in Shakespeare’s day.

Dominic Kelly as Worcester

Dominic Kelly as Worcester

The actual acting passes in a haze of mental and emotional fire that is almost impossible to describe. Kim Hardy, who’s done the work once before, commented: “It was a tremendous experience all round. The buzz was thrilling playing at The Rose.” John Kelley, on his first go, said: “A unique, emotional, unforgettable experience where I felt utterly supported and inspired by my fellow players.”

Everyone who’s tried it agrees: it’s addictive. It changes how you work with other actors, how you treat text, and how you feel about William Shakespeare: player, playwright, director, poet, genius, and best friend to the modern actor.

The company perform their closing jig

The company perform their closing jig

Anyone looking for more information on the salon: collective and Shakespeare: Direct (and the chance to join the next round), check out their details on The Cockpit’s website.

All images by Camilla Greenwell

An irreverent, pared-down and post-Apocalyptic take on Shakespeare’s The Tempest

Last month, director Sarah Redmond helmed an “edited, reinvented off-West End production of The Tempest” at London’s Waterloo East Theatre. It’s an experience she describes as an “incredible voyage of discovery with 14 terrific actors,” adding that: “I learnt so much about Shakespeare, editing and budgets!”

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Due to budget restrictions, Sarah decided to take out all of Prospero’s ‘mystical magic’ and replace it with a Derren Brown-influenced element of mind control. “Prospero has endured a lot,” she explains, “and when exploring the play I felt he would be dark and bitter.”
Achieving Sarah’s desired degree of darkness as Prospero was actor Tom Keller. “This approach definitely made him very much more ‘mortal’,” she says. “Our Prospero was grumpy, simmering and short tempered.”

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Despite its placing as the very first play in the First Folio, in which it opens the ‘Comedies’ section, The Tempest is rarely thought of as one of Shakespeare’s funniest works. “There are comedic scenes,” Sarah says, “but by removing the otherworldly magic, I definitely removed the expected lightness of the play.”
However, Sarah believes that her approach did allow comedy to flourish in unexpected places, “Especially in the lovers’ scenes.”

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The play’s actual comedic scenes (played by Matthew Harper, Lucy Harwood and Sy Thomas) also received a thorough editing from Sarah, “But the comedy beats exist,” she says, “and are very obviously placed. Losing a lot of the cultural references on one hand could be sacriligious. On the other hand, it does get to the point.”

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Sarah believes that her anti-purist production succeeded because ultimately she had trust in the play and in her casting. “I edited The Tempest down to an hour and a half,” she says. “It works. Tell the story and don’t wallow.”

Find out more about Sarah Redmond here.
Find out more about Waterloo East Theatre here.

Photography by Rob Youngston