Setting off from Belfast on Friday 13th July could perhaps be seen as a bad omen but that wasn’t going to stop the excited team from Belfast as we departed for Stratford-upon-Avon – the home of the world-famous Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC).
Our merry troupe included:
- A company of 23 young actors
- 3 young stage managers
- 2 young technicians
- The management team from Youth Action’s Rainbow Factory
- The Lyric’s Creative Learning Coordinator, Philip Crawford & me, Pauline McKay (Creative Learning Assistant/Stage Management Mentor)
We arrive that same day in sunny Stratford-upon-Avon, a beautiful town with Tudor buildings, an array of boutique shops, bustling restaurants and barges moving lazily along the river. However, all is over-shadowed by the towering presence of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. A building in a mish-mash of styles from different eras set in parkland and surrounded by an electric atmosphere. After a stroll around the town to get our bearings and a nice meal, it was time to head off to our hotel for an early, if somewhat sleepless, night.
Saturday arrived and we left for the Courtyard Theatre for some morning rehearsals. There to greet us was Ian Wainwright the man heading up the Open Stages project for the RSC and the World Shakespeare Festival. Last minute rehearsals and intense physical warm-ups are taking place, discussions with the director, Richard Howard about staging, interviews, the schedule and every other detail that needed consideration.
12.45pm and the crew springs into action, the van arrives at the scene dock door filled with pieces of set, furniture, costumes and props. Experienced crew from the RSC worked alongside the Rainbow Factory’s young trainees building and positioning the set, setting up props and furniture backstage and preparing for the technical rehearsal. Trainee, Robert worked with the RSC sound technician, programming, adjusting and setting levels. Another trainee, Cricky worked with the RSC Lighting team, creating scenes in daytime, storms and lightning. While Aaron, who headed up the Rainbow Factory team, was floating between stage, sound and lighting offering advice and support.
3pm and the technical rehearsal starts. It’s a tense moment as Aaron calls the first cues but all the elements come together seamlessly and we finish ahead of schedule. There is even time for an impromptu visit from one of the RSC vocal coaches to give the cast a short workshop and warm-up preparing them for the 1,000-seat theatre they will be playing that evening.
7.30pm curtain up on the Rainbow Factory’s Julius Caesar. They set their production inBelfast in 2000, the play lending itself well to the tit-for-tat killings that took place at that time, allowing the cast to relate to the Shakespearian text and effectively translate this to the audience. Everything runs to plan, the actors give it their best and receive fantastic audience response and feedback. They are now RSC actors.
9pm the show comes to an end, the set is taken apart and the van is pack for its trip back to Belfast. The company heads off for a much-needed meal and celebration in Bella Italia.
The team rounded off their visit on Sunday by taking part in workshops, master classes and tours of the Theatre spaces before their return home to Belfast.