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Happy Birthday Will - Shakespeare's 450th Birthday Celebrations in 2014

A Good Year to Get to Know the World's Greatest Playwright

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William Shakespeare

A painting of William Shakespeare, believed to be the only authentic image of Shakespeare made during his life

Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
Sam_Wanamaker_Theatre.jpg

New Sam Wanamaker Theatre at Shakespeare's Globe in London opens in 2014

CGI Designs Allies + Morrison Courtesy of Visit Britain
New RSC theatre

Royal Shakespeare Theatre New Auditorium

Peter Cook Courtesy of the RSC

Shakespeare grows on you. If you've kept the Bard at arm's length, put off by boring English lessons in high school or sing song renditions of his muscular verse by bad actors, it may be time to give the guy another chance.

You might discover that, like the unpromisingly geeky blind date with whom you shared an unexpectedly great night out, the better you get to know him, the more you'll like him.

And there's no better time to get to know Shakespeare than during the feast of Shakespeare and Shakespearean events that will take place between 2014 and 2016.

Debut to Final Curtain

Shakespeare was born just about 450 years ago (in April, 1564 to be exact - the same year as Galileo, as a matter of interest). He died about 400 years ago (in April 1616, four years before the Pilgrim fathers anchored in Plymouth harbour). During his 52 years, he added hundreds - if not thousands - of words to the English language; coined expressions that anyone who speaks English probably uses every day - dead as a doornail, a laughing stock, fair play, neither here nor there, in stitches - and wrote plays that still manage to touch audiences of every generation and in every language spoken on the planet.

To mark Shakespeare's birth and death, the Royal Shakespeare Company is spearheading a three year Jubilee, between 2014 and 2016, that will involve theatre performances, events and live streaming cinema around the world. Other institutions, including the Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London, have special events scheduled and more will likely be announced in the Jubilee years.

Here's what's lined up so far:

From the Royal Shakespeare Company

  • Dream 16 - The company  leads a nationwide celebration between Shakespeare's 450th birthday on April 23, 2014 to the 400th anniversary of his death, April 23, 2016. (No you are not reading that wrong; traditionally the important dates in the Bard's life are both marked on St George's Day). Plays will be seen at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon, the Barbican in London, the Theatre Royal in Newcastle upon Tyne as well as a national and international tour. The summer season will include the company's first production of comedy The Two Gentlemen of Verona in 45 years, and three Jacobean thrillers one of which may or may not have been written by Shakespeare himself
    The culmination of the celebrations will be Dream 16 - a nationwide tour of A Midsummer Night's Dream, with performances in every part of the UK. At each stop of the tour, the roles of Bottom and the rude mechanicals will be played by a different local amateur company and Titania's fairy train will be played by local school children.
    If you plan to visit the UK between 2014 and 2016, there's a good chance you will be able to see this brilliant company somewhere in Britain.
  • Live Streaming Cinema - You don't have to leave home to see the company "live".  Starting with a production of Richard II in November 2013 ( starring my favorite Dr. Who, David Tennant) live performances from the Royal Shakespeare Theatre will be broadcast to selected movie theatres around the world. More theatres are signing up all the time, but as of early October, 2013, theaters in 42 communities around the USA had scheduled these live broadcasts. Movie theaters in places as disparate as Farmingdale, New York; Plano,Texas; Fort Wayne, Indiana; Scotts Bluff, Nebraska; Cleveland, Ohio and Damariscotta, Maine, will be included in a program that is, so far (as of fall 2013), scheduled through September 2014 and could be extended. The plays will also be broadcast live to theaters in Australia, Canada, Germany, Ireland, Malta, Russia, the UK and Sweden. Productions will include Henry IV, Parts I and II, and Two Gentlemen of Verona.

Learn more about the Royal Shakespeare Company

Watch for updates about cinema live streaming locations  on the RSC's live broadcasts website, RSC Onscreen.

From Shakespeare's Globe Theatre 

A new, indoor Jacobean theater opens on January 9, 2014 beside the famous, Globe Theatre in Bankside on the south bank of the Thames. It will enable the company of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre to present productions year round. The new theatre, dubbed the Sam Wanamaker Theatre in honor of the late American actor/director who was the driving force behind the rebuilt Globe, is based on a design discovered by chance.

In the 1960s, some drawings fell from a book being taken down from a shelf at an Oxford college library. They turned out to be the earliest set of design drawings for an English theatre ever found. They are thought to be the work of John Webb, a protégé of Inigo Jones, designer of Covent Garden. The new theatre will be the first in the world to be built from these design drawings.

The theatre would have been of a type familiar to Shakespeare and his contemporaries in the latter part of his career. It opens with The Duchess of Malfi, a bloody melodrama by John Webster that was first performed by Shakespeare's own company at the original Globe.

As usual, the theatre celebrates the Bard's Birthday with a family friendly open house, workshops, a chance to explore the Elizabethan stage and an evening performance. In 2014, the birthday celebrations will take place on April 21. Visit their website for more details.

At the Victoria and Albert Museum

The V&A will mark the anniversary with two exhibitions.  Shakespeare: Our Greatest Living Playwright, a multi-media installation in the Theatre and Performance Galleries, will bring together many rarely seen objects from the museum's collections, including:

  • a First Folio, the book printed in 1623 that first collected most of Shakespeare's plays, several of which would otherwise have been lost forever. 
  • the real human skull, given to French actress Sarah Bernhardt  by novelist Victor Hugo for her performance as Hamlet in 1899, and a cream silk embroidered handkerchief used by Ellen Terry when she played Desdemona in Othello in 1881.

The exhibition is scheduled to run for most of 2014, from January 31 to September 28.

A second exhibition, Shooting Shakespeare, in collaboration with Shakespeare's Globe, features archival and contemporary photographs of performances. One of the earliest is of Shakespearean actor Charles Kean, playing the title role of Henry V in 1859. The exhibition will tour theatres and galleries around the country throughout 2014.

In Shakespeare's Hometown

Stratford-Upon-Avon has been celebrating Shakespeare's birthday for almost 200 years. The two-day festival fills the town with parades and pageantry, music, and special events at the Shakespeare Houses on a weekend close to the Bard's official birthday. In 2014, the celebrations will take place April 26 and 27 and are expected to include more events and activities than usual. 

 

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