Measure for Measure set in the 1930’s Dust Bowl of America, a 1950’s rock ‘n’ roll version of Twelfth Night and a new play inspired by Shakespeare performed outdoors across a village are three of the Midland productions chosen as part of the UK’s biggest amateur project – Open Stages.

After receiving nearly 200 applications from across Britain, the Royal Shakespeare Company and six partner theatres chose to work and mentor 86 amateur theatre groups.

RSC Open Stages producer Ian Wainwright explains: “The RSC is once again excited to continue to collaborate with just some of the million amateur theatre-makers in the UK.

“The RSC understands the skill, commitment, energy and passion it takes to make theatre happen. We therefore have a huge respect for those DIY, grassroots theatre-makers who create theatre in their spare time often on very limited resources.

“Open Stages looks to share some of the processes, techniques and ideas of professional theatre making, while allowing the RSC to learn about, and be inspired by, the work of people with a real passion for the craft of theatre.”

Seven projects were selected from across Warwickshire and the West Midlands including The Chrysalis Collective set up by two Birmingham University graduates, Stratford-upon-Avon’s Consensus Opera, Lighthorne Drama Group, Rugby Theatre, Side-by-Side Theatre Company in Norton, Stourbridge, Birmingham’s Crescent Theatre and The Shakespeare Institute Players, also in Birmingham.

All 86 directors gathered for the first and only time in Stratford-upon-Avon last September for a skills workshop led by the RSC’s team of theatre practitioners.

The Chrysalis Collective, established earlier this year by 23-year-old Christa Harris and Lucinda Lee, was chosen for its 1957 version of Twelfth Night, set in an English seaside port town as rock ‘n’ roll sweeps the country.

Young theatre director Christa grew up in Whitmore Park, Coventry, and is a former member of the city’s Belgrade Youth Theatre.

She studied a BA in English literature and drama at the University of Birmingham, where she directed a Student Union theatre production Of Mice and Men in her final year.

She explains: “After gaining a little more experience with the Birmingham REP’s Dramatic Acts in the summer in which I directed and acted in a collaborative project with university friends, another university friend, Lucinda, approached me with an idea she had.

“She had enjoyed the production I had directed in the summer and was interested in working with me. Her idea was for a production of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night set specifically in 1957, apart from being terribly flattered that Lucy had approached me, I was also very excited. Together we found our theatre company, The Chrysalis Collective, a female led, collaborative theatre company and set about developing our idea for Twelfth Night for the RSC Open Stages scheme.”

Twelfth Night will be performed at The Bear Pit Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon from May 27 until June 1.

“When I found out that we were one of 86 companies to get onto the RSC Open Stages I was over-the-moon,” Christa adds.

“Throughout the process of staging this production, the RSC is mentoring us, developing our craft as theatre-makers and sharing skills and techniques.

Stratford-upon-Avon's Consensus Opera, one of the groups chosen for the project.
Stratford-upon-Avon's Consensus Opera, one of the groups chosen for the project.
 

“The RSC will be watching our rehearsals and our final performances and offering support throughout, as well as the official RSC branding. There is no financial support; therefore we have been raising our funds through cake sales, online auctions alongside an online campaign. We have received immense support so far which is both moving and motivating.”

Open auditions will take place on January 12 from 11am to 4pm and January 15 from 7pm-10pm at the Bear Pit Theatre. No experience is needed.

Warwickshire property developer and interior designer Lynda Lewis, is also a playwright, director and actress.

At the last minute, spurred on by a close friend, she submitted a proposal to the RSC’s Open Stages – and was speechless when she discovered it had been selected.

Lynda, who is a member of Lighthorne Drama Group based in the small Warwickshire village of Lighthorne, says: “I am writing and directing a new play called Blimey O’Reilly’s Midwinter Merry Error which is all the best bits of Shakespeare joined in together to create a new story.

“It is due to be performed partly promenade in three outdoor locations in Lighthorne. There’s a large cast including Falstaff, Bottom, King Lear and his daughters, Will Shakespeare himself, a horse, a lion, and of course, a bear. Blimey is the narrator and boss of the whole thing.”

Lynda is hoping to involve actors from other local theatres, a young peoples’ drama group and a steel pan band.

The Birmingham-based Shakespeare Institute Players is undertaking Measure for Measure set in 1930’s Dust Bowl America with its own Delta Blues band.

Auditions take place this month and the play will be staged between July 17 and 26.

For Stratford-upon-Avon’s Consensus Opera, it is the second time it has had the opportunity to work with the RSC’s creative teams.

In May 2011, its production of Merry Wives of Windsor, was included in the first Open Stages event.

Its new production, The Touches of Sweet Harmony, combines opera, drama and for the first time a local orchestra. The words of Shakespeare will be performed to poetry, opera, orchestral music and songs inspired by him.

The programme, which is still in development, may include Beethoven’s coriolan overture and extracts from Coriolanus; a short scene from The Taming of the Shrew together with music and songs from Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate and Juliet’s Waltz Song from Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet with a duet from Bernstein’s West Side Story.

Consensus Opera was founded by Tenor Tim Johnson and soprano Claire Johnson in 2007.

And Warwickshire’s Rugby Theatre is staging its own version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with a cast of 40 performers, including 20 children as fairies.

Director Robert Sloan says: “This project gives us the support we need to be truly adventurous and to produce a show which is innovative, new and completely accessible to a modern audience..”

A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream will be performed at Rugby Theatre from May 10 to 17.

Shaking up Bard

* Across the UK productions range from Macbeth staged in a Cardiff Shopping Centre; Much Ado About Nothing performed by
serving members of the RAF, The Tempest in a quarry in Durham and Richard III in Leicester Cathedral, where the King’s newly-discovered body will be buried.

* Up to 2,500 amateur actors will be taking part aged from eight to 80.

* Unusual themes range from Henry V in a Norman Castle to a sci-fi Tempest in an Oxfordshire village hall, an all-female King Lear in London, a Gulf-War set Titus Andronicus in Edinburgh and a Scandi-drama style Hamlet in St Andrews.

* Macbeth is the most popular of Shakespeare’s play with seven productions closely followed by Twelfth Night with six. There will be six modern plays inspired by Shakespeare and 16 new plays written or devised by amateur companies.

* Some of the more unusual stage venues include a barn, an island, six pubs, a bookshop and a graveyard.