The University Record, February 12, 2001

RSC’s ‘Michigan Residency’ offers free, public events

By Mary Jo Frank, Office of the Vice President for Communications
and Joanne Nesbit, News and Information Services

Scene from Henry IV, Part II. Photo by John Haynes, courtesy Royal Shakespeare Company
It was the Royal Shakespeare Company’s (RSC) commitment to education that struck a responsive chord with President Lee C. Bollinger and University Musical Society (UMS) President Kenneth C. Fischer three years ago, when plans started to take shape for a U-M and RSC partnership.

“Shakespeare’s history plays are among his most intriguing and challenging works,” Fischer says. “What the RSC was looking for was a place where the plays could be presented as a cycle, but also where their context and meaning could be fully explored. The RSC sees the University of Michigan as the ideal place for all of these things to happen.”

As part of the RSC’s three-week March residency, the Stratford-on-Avon-based company will perform new productions of four of Shakespeare’s history plays—Henry VI, Parts I, II and III, and Richard III—at the Power Center for the Performing Arts. The RSC’s history cycle will be staged exclusively in the United States at Ann Arbor. The residency is one of the tangible results of the RSC’s first partnership with an American public university and the first of several projects in the initial five-year collaboration among the U-M, the UMS and the RSC.

“I am delighted the University is working as a partner with the University Musical Society and the Royal Shakespeare Company to bring Shakespeare’s history plays to Ann Arbor,” Bollinger says. “The RSC’s Michigan residency will long be remembered, for sterling performances by this renowned theatrical company as well as for the related educational and cultural programs that promise to inspire students and all those who love the performing arts and Shakespeare.”

More than 75 educational events are planned, ranging from guest lectures, interviews and exhibitions to workshops on acting, text analysis, voice and movement, set design, and lighting.

Almost 40 of these events are free and open to the public.

“This residency is for everybody—young people, college students and adults,” Fischer says, noting that it builds on the UMS’s and

U-M’s longstanding commitment to engage individuals and communities throughout the state and the region.

David Oyelowo is the first Black actor to play an English king in an RSC production. Photo by Manuel Harlan, courtesy Royal Shakespeare Company
In addition to meeting with U-M students and actors, members of the RSC production crew will visit classes and hold workshops at Washtenaw Community College, St. Clair Community College, Eastern Michigan University and Wayne State University. In preparation for the residency, RSC representatives met with K–12 students in Ann Arbor, Detroit and Ypsilanti in January. A special youth performance of Richard III for grades 7–12 is scheduled at 6:30 p.m. March 9 at the Power Center.

RSC staff are working with theater students at Detroit’s Cass Technical High School to rehearse for a one-hour live performance of contemporary scenes from Shakespeare that will be telecast to area schools through Wayne County’s Regional Education Service Agency. Other acting workshops are planned for young people through Detroit’s Mosaic Youth Theater, as well as for professional actors at Ann Arbor’s Performance Network.

More than 225 students are enrolled in the course “Staging History: Shakespeare on Legitimacy and Rebellion,” being coordinated by English Prof. Ralph G. Williams, who has worked closely with the RSC in the months leading up to the productions. The lectures are open to the public.

“The project with the Royal Shakespeare Company is marvelous in two ways: It expands our horizons and experience and focuses our resources,” Williams says.

“The RSC is arguably the best in the English-speaking world in classic drama. We are enriched by our ties with them and have the chance to make possible in England the fulfillment of a cultural project there which would have been incomplete without the resources the residency here provides.

“But equally wonderful,” he says, “has been the coordination of resources here. The University Musical Society is contributing its resources and expertise in mounting complex productions. Faculty from theatre, English, classics and the Residential College are working together to prepare students for the experience of the productions. Likewise exciting is the bringing together of the University with the wider Ann Arbor community and other colleges in the state as we prepare for and experience the residency.”

Residency highlights include free, public keynote interviews with RSC Director Michael Boyd and Artistic Director Adrian Noble at 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. March 11 in Rackham Auditorium. Williams and Bollinger will conduct the interviews.

The Special Collections Library in the Graduate Library and the Bentley Historical Library have mounted exhibitions as part of the residency.

Shakespeare’s history plays are based on England’s bloody and most turbulent period in history, with civil war leading to chaos and, ultimately, anarchy. The British press has described the RSC productions of these works as “full of hair-raising special effects and blood-curdling combat, [while] never losing a word of the text.”

These plays and the historic period itself contain political back-stabbing (and actual stabbings), war, revolt, rebellion, fleeting glory and counterplots, as well as love, lust and ghosts.

From stunning stage designs and costumes to ominous music and ingenious staging, the RSC brings to the U-M and southeast Michigan what Britain’s The Independent called the “Bard’s epic tale delivered with the clash of panache and buckets of blood.”

The RSC is one of the world’s foremost classical theater companies and has performed regularly in the United States since 1913, when actors from the original Shakespeare Memorial Theatre performed in Detroit.

The history plays are presented in cycles, with the first cycle beginning at 11 a.m. March 10 and ending with a 5 p.m. curtain March 11. The second cycle begins at 11 a.m. March 17 and ends with a production of Richard III at 5 p.m. March 18. A third cycle, added to accommodate the demand for tickets, begins at 8 p.m. March 13 and concludes with an 8 p.m. performance March 15. For information on purchasing tickets, call (734) 764-2538 or (800) 221-1229.

A complete list of events, including those open to the public, is on the Web at www.umich.edu/pres/shakespeare/. Additional information is on the UMS Web site, www.ums.org/, and RSC Web site, www.rsc.org.uk/.


‘Michigan Residency’: A sampling of educational activities

This is a sampling of the educational events being offered during the RSC’s residency. Most are open to the public. Please check the Web, www.umich.edu/pres/shakespeare, for a listing of public events.

  • “Staging History: Shakespeare on Legitimacy and Rebellion,” taught by English Prof. Ralph G. Williams, meets 7–8 p.m. Thursdays, Hale Auditorium, Business School, except for Feb. 15, Feb. 22, March 8 and March 15, when it meets at 3 p.m. Guest lecturers include RSC dramaturge Simon Reade, who will talk about the choices made for this production and the implications of other choices in other productions 3–4 p.m. March 8.

  • Stephen Greenblatt, professor of Shakes-peare at Harvard University, will give a public lecture, “Dreams of Kingship: Ghostly Terror in Shakespeare’s Richard III,” 4–6 p.m. Feb. 19, Rackham Auditorium.

  • Beginning March 5, Michigan Radio will air features on “The RSC Residency, the Actors, the Production” during “Morning Edition” (7:50 a.m.) and “All Things Considered” (4:50 p.m.). “Henry VI: What You Need to Know,” with English Prof. Ralph Williams and Michigan Radio Manager Donovan Reynolds, will air 8–9 p.m. March 9.

  • Clare Venables, RSC’s director of education and new media, will discuss the challenge of presenting Shakespeare to modern audiences and in different regions and countries at the “History of Theater” class of Leigh Woods, professor of music and of theater, 1–2:30 p.m. March 6, Room 3532, Frieze Building.

  • Venables will lead a workshop on “Voice, Movement and Text” 11 a.m.–12:30 p.m. March 7 in Room 175, Liberal Arts and Sciences Building, Washtenaw Community College.

  • Venables will talk with students in dance and art history in “Visual Analysis and Theories of Perception,” a class taught by Beth Genne, associate professor of dance and of music, about how an actor and director create a specific visual image of a character and situation 3:30–5 p.m. March 7 in Room 124 at the Residential College.

  • A panel discussion, “Engendering History: Women, Gender and Shakespeare’s History Plays,” will be held noon–2 p.m. March 9 in Assembly Hall, Rackham Building.

  • A youth performance of Richard III will be held for grades 7–12 from area schools 6:30–9:30 p.m. March 9 at the Power Center.

  • RSC Director Michael Boyd will be interviewed by Ralph Williams, professor of English, at 2 p.m. March 11. President Lee C. Bollinger will interview RSC Artistic Director Adrian Noble at 3 p.m. that day. Both public interviews will be in Rackham Auditorium.

  • RSC actors will work with students enrolled in “Shakespeare on the Stage,” taught by lecturer Martin Walsh, 10 a.m.–noon March 15 in the Residential College Auditorium. Students who have prepared scenes from Henry VI and Richard III will receive coaching.

  • The secrets of creating and composing music for theater will be shared by RSC musicians 2–3:30 p.m. March 15 at the Special Collections Library, seventh floor, Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library.

  • RSC education staff will share backstage stories, including how they create sets, give tips on design and lighting, and about how to arrange terrifying fight scenes 11 a.m.–3 p.m. March 13 and 9:30–11 a.m. March 15 at the Power Center.

  • Sarah Esdaile, RSC associate director of the tetralogy, and Woods will discuss “The Art of Acting and Directing Shakespeare” 4–5:30 p.m. March 16 at the Alumni Center.

  • Meet the RSC actors at an interview session 2:30–3:30 p.m. March 18 in Rackham Auditorium.

  • RSC actors will coach Eastern Michigan University students in EMU theater Prof. Kerry Graves’ acting workshop 2–4 p.m. March 19 in Room 117, Jones Hall on the EMU campus.

  • RSC cast members will lead workshops on preparing for Shakespeare, text analysis, voice and movement, and production challenges 2–5 p.m. March 19 at St. Clair Community College, Port Huron.

  • RSC actors and musicians will lead an acting workshop for approximately 50 young people in the Mosaic Youth Theater 6:30–8:30 p.m. March 19 at Historic Fort Wayne in Detroit.

  • The RSC will hold a community acting workshop for professional actors 7–9 p.m. March 20 at the Performance Network.

  • RSC actors and staff will lead workshops on scenery, text analysis and delivery 11 a.m.–3 p.m. March 21 at Wayne State University’s Theater Department.

  • U-M Theater Department Chair Erik Fredricksen will host an “open floor” with students and RSC actors 4:30–6 p.m. March 21 in the Arena Theater, Frieze Building.