The Playgoer: RSC: Home of New Writing?

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

RSC: Home of New Writing?

While they may be in the midst of a mega Shakespeare marathon now, Britain's Royal Shakespeare Company is going somewhat cold turkey after that and committing half their schedule to new work. This marks a new direction for the company by AD Michael Boyd, as reported by the Guardian.

The playwrights Marina Carr, Leo Butler and Roy Williams have all been recently commissioned by the RSC. But in a more far-reaching move, writers will be "embedded" within the company. The first of these, Adriano Shaplin, will be working with the actors who are preparing Shakespeare's history plays, all eight of which will be in the repertoire by spring 2008. The idea is for authors to write plays with a specific ensemble in mind, just as Shakespeare did. "It's a radical idea; but it is also our heritage," Mr Boyd said.

He hopes that the New Works festival, which is the present chief conduit for new plays staged by the RSC, will eventually "be rendered redundant as new work is sewn firmly into our repertoire".

Mr Boyd also said that his aim of reviving the notion of an old-fashioned ensemble company - rather than employing actors on short-term contracts as has become common practice in recent years - was becoming a reality.

"Our company of actors have committed to us for 2½ years," he said. "The received wisdom is that actors don't want to do that. I think that's tosh."

Shakespeare and the Chamberlain's Men, Chekhov and the Moscow Art Theatre, Odets and The Group, Lanford Wilson and Circle Rep, Mamet and the Goodman, even Pinter and the old RSC...a pretty good track record for this model. Yet another argument for rep companies. Or at least for institutions to support and sustain collaboration of like-minded artists over time.


Anonymous said...

More exciting even than this is Boyd's decision to rehearse and present the 8 histories in the order of conjectured composition. So 1-3 Henry VI (which closed in October, and were fantastic), Richard III, Richard II, 1-2 Henry IV, Henry V. Just think what this company will learn about Shakespeare's developing craft. More, perhaps, than any Shakespearean, living or dead.

As each production takes shape in their new temporary space, the Courtyard (itself a marvel), they'll re-present the others already in their repertoire (so if anyone wants to catch 1-3 Henry VI, they're playing again in February after Richard III goes up). Would Oskar Eustis, Michael Kahn, or any other US artisitic director engage theater with such scope and ambition? I doubt it. Not even if they were given the money to subsidize such a venture.

Here's another Brit example of vision. Sam West, newly appointed artistic director of the Sheffield Theatres (Crucible, Studio, and Lyceum), will oversee a complete refurbishment of two of these venues (Studio, Crucible) starting next August. Which means the theaters will be closed for eighteen months. So he's been raising money and scouting spaces all over Sheffield, and commissioning writers (mostly local, but others as well--note, Pinter is a Yorkshire playwright) to create site specific work that engages Yorkshire past, Yorkshire present, and Yorkshire things to come. Why? Because he thinks one (among many) of the theater's responsibilities to the community it nurtures is to serve as a repository of social and cultural memory.

It's a radically humbling experience to spend three months in the UK teaching theater, attending 35+ performances, and speaking with whomever you can corner in theater lobbies, bars, or local pubs. Every AD in the US should do it.

Anonymous said...

You make me wish I were there! Say hello to Adriano Shaplin for me -- I know his grandmother, Pippa, but he doesn't know me. Have you read the new book about Mary Sidney by Robin Williams called "Sweet Swan of Avon:did a woman write Shakespeare?" Read more at marysidney.blogspot.
Let me know if you see a play "dramaturged" by Adriano Shaplin.I'm at as ewest.