Tag Archives: Globe to Globe

Introducing: Shakespeare on the Global Stage

book cover

Busy but exciting times — some of you know that for the past several years I’ve been working on a project exploring Shakespeare’s presence in the 2012 London Olympics. At the end of January, the final installment of this research was published, in the form of a beautiful and thought-provoking collection of essays from Arden/Bloomsbury entitled Shakespeare on the Global Stage: Performance and Festivity in the Olympic Year. Below are a few Olympic Shakespeare-themed tweets I posted in celebration of its launch, as well as an excerpt from the book’s preface giving a list of its contributors and the questions and arguments they explore in their chapters.


From the Preface…

In the autumn of 2011, the Royal Shakespeare Company announced its plans for ‘the greatest celebration of Shakespeare the world has ever seen’. The RSC’s World Shakespeare Festival (as it came to be known) would form a major part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, and would feature such highlights as the Globe to Globe Festival at Shakespeare’s Globe. Together these projects would bring dozens of Shakespearean productions from overseas to British stages, as well as inspire a range of new interpretations by UK companies. Anticipating what was an unprecedented and possibly unrepeatable moment, a group of UK-based scholars created an informal collective with the expressed aim of documenting and debating the performances of Shakespeare in the Olympic year. Reviewers were dispatched to the nearly seventy productions, and their responses were promptly posted on the project’s website, www.yearofshakespeare.com. A few months later, these pieces would be published together as A Year of Shakespeare: Re-living the World Shakespeare Festival (Arden, 2013).

If that book reflected the ‘documentation’ of the Festival, offering short, eye-witness accounts of what it was like to be caught up in the celebrations in ‘real time’, this book makes space for the longer view, inviting authors from the UK but also abroad to pursue the range of complex issues raised by the collocation of the Olympics and what we call ‘Shakespeare’. One of the paradoxes of mega-events like the Olympics is that while the event is intensively concentrated in the host city and nation, it is nevertheless designed for the enjoyment and consumption of a truly global audience. In calling this book Shakespeare on the Global Stage, we try to capture the sheer reach of the internationally visible outcomes of the 2012 Olympics, but this book is also profoundly interested in the build-up and backstage histories that lie behind that final spectacle.

Paul Prescott begins by exploring the overlaps between the philosophy of Olympism and the various forms of dream work performed by Shakespeare in 2012. The juxtaposition of two previously unpublished poems by Kapka Kassabova – a writer in residence in Stratford-on-Avon in the Olympic year – invites the reader to consider the relationship between a captured moment of parochial festivity and the weight and responsibilities of global citizenship. Interviews with Frank Cottrell Boyce, Tom Bird and Tracy Irish offer reflective and personal accounts about the process of scripting, producing and teaching Shakespeare for and on the global stage.

The next two chapters consider the politics of culture from the perspective of nation and region, analysing the relations between space, identity and representation. Stuart Hampton-Reeves focuses on the interrogation of nationhood offered by three Globe to Globe productions; he uses this so-called Balkan trilogy to reflect on boundaries and faultlines within London in the lead-up to the Olympics. Adam Hansen and Monika Smialkowska question the boundaries between local, national and global, and tease out the ways in which the northeast of England was and was not represented in the 2012 festivities.

The Globe to Globe Festival shifted our understanding of the nature of cross-cultural exchange between performer and audience. Stephen Purcell and Rose Elfman’s chapters draw on both quantitative and subjective accounts of spectatorship to explore the ways in which audiences collaborated in the creation of meaning and value throughout the Olympiad. The networks of global production behind the World Shakespeare Festival are interrogated by Colette Gordon in her analysis of the sometimes problematic ways in which one continent – Africa – signified and was represented across Olympiad programming.

The following two chapters offer telling comparisons, one synchronic, the other diachronic. Peter Kirwan and Charlotte Mathieson’s chapter analyses the ways in which London (and other spaces, real and virtual) celebrated and remembered two canonical writers, Shakespeare and Dickens (2012 was the two hundredth anniversary of the novelist’s birth). Tony Howard finds echoes in 2012 of the last London Olympics of 1948, in which international cultural exchange benefited the British understanding of Shakespeare in another age of austerity. The promise of far-reaching legacy underwrites every Olympics, and Erin Sullivan’s concluding chapter considers how investment in Shakespeare in 2012 connected with an optimistic, if unrealized, vision of Britain’s global future. Finally, in her afterword Kathleen McLuskie weighs the virtues of that optimism against the almost intractable complexity of capital and culture, reflecting on the irreconcilable pressures and pleasures that Shakespeare celebration in the Olympic year exerted on the individual.

Celebrating the digital, part 2 — new directions

Earlier this week I posted a piece about three recent digital Shakespeare anniversaries — the 6-month anniversary of this blog, the 5-year anniversary of NTLive, and the 1-year anniversary of the RSC and Google+’s A Midsummer Night’s Dreaming. Today I want to follow that up with some discussion of the recent re-launch of the digital arts site TheSpace.org, and the possible new avenues it may open up for online creativity and performance.

Originally developed as a pop-up site for the digital side of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad, The Space returned last week as a new and more permanent gallery for the digital arts in the UK. While the old Space included a wide range of digital offerings, including the free streaming of recordings of 37  Globe to Globe Shakespeare productions, we are told that the new Space will leave broadcasting initiatives to BBC Arts Online and will instead turn its focus to more radical engagements with creative form. That means content that is more like Midsummer Night’s Dreaming and less like Globe to Globe streaming, as demonstrated by the kind of work generated by the #hackthespace all-night opening event at the Tate Modern last weekend.

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Hackers hacking. #hackthespace

While the new version of the site is still young and content is in the process of being developed, there are a few initial offerings that caught my eye. The most high-profile piece featured in the new Space was an iPad drawing from David Hockney of a lily against a mauve background. I say was because in the process of writing this post I realized that the lily, titled ‘1062’, has been taken down, and all the links to the Telegraph coverage of it are now mysteriously broken (to be fair, The Space responded to my tweet below saying that the Hockney was a a special and time-limited offering just for the launch). At the moment the drawing can still be seen in this Channel 4 story about the new Space, about halfway down the page. A couple of things about the work really interest me — first, the title, which to some extent highlights the potentially mechanized status of digital art (especially considering the fact that Hockney, unlike some artists, doesn’t tend to use numerical titles for his paintings), and second, the fact that the ‘drawing’ is actually an animation that allows you to watch the composition of the flower from start to finish. For me the work was much more interesting for the insight it gave into Hockney’s process, and I’d be interested to know if the 2-minutes’ worth of animation was in real-time or sped up. How long does it take to create a piece of digital art?

Leaving the question of the disappearing Hockney aside, the other work on the new Space that most interests me is a theatre piece called Longitude. Written by Tim Wright, one of the creatives behind the RSC’s 2010 digital experiment, Such Tweet SorrowLongitude uses Google Hangouts (as did Midsummer Night’s Dreaming) to broadcast three 20-minute episodes of a new play about global climate change and water shortage. It’s fashioned as a thriller, set in a near future that sees ocean levels rising, weather patterns intensifying, and clean water disappearing. The action connects actors in Lagos, Barcelona, and London, roughly all on the same longitude line, as they communicate with each other about a dodgy water deal that seems destined to go wrong. There’s still one more episode to go on 23 June at 6pm GMT, with a Q&A to follow, and episodes 1 and 2 can be watched online in the meantime (see ep. 1 below).

I’ll be interested to know more about the logistics of the performance, specifically how the live action and broadcasting is coordinated, since I had initially assumed it was pre-recorded based on cued technical break-ups in some of the video conferencing that were part of the dramatic action. With Auslander fresh in my mind I’m also interested in how the production’s liveness, a feature emphasized in its promotion on Twitter and The Space, might contribute to its status as theatre rather than television, film, or something altogether new. In any case it’s a really interesting example of possible new directions for digital performance, and the fact that it’s also partly commissioned by LIFT (the London International Festival of Theatre) points towards a growing and more widespread interest in what the digital, in all its infinite variety, may have to offer the performing arts today.

So lots to celebrate, I’d say, and much to look forward to. While I think that it’s right that we question the remit and scope of the so-called ‘digital’, and that we push ourselves to define how we’re using it in different contexts (a point discussed in part 1 of this post), I also think it’s important to allow it space to range somewhat wildly across form and platform, and to see what happens. By ‘what happens’ I mean not only what creative artists and producers come up with, but also how audiences of all different  digital competencies engage with and use it. And it looks like we’ll have more opportunity for this in the near future — just yesterday The Space announced a competition for £20,000 of seed money for the UK company that submits the most promising proposal for a new work of digital theatre. So stay tuned.

Image by kind permission of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. Core by Kurt Hentschläger, A digital installation commissioned by the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, with support from Arts Council England as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad.
The new face of digital theatre?