Royal Company to Put All of Shakespeare on Stage

The Royal Shakespeare Company plans to produce ALL of the bard's works in the next year. Deborah Shaw, director of the upcoming festival in Stratford, England, tells Scott Simon what's coming.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Coming up, the eyes have it, memories of Bettie Davis. But first, to the stage, because Sunday is William Shakespeare's birthday. The Royal Shakespeare Company is beginning a year-long complete works festival.

They start with Romeo and Juliet, which is onstage now, and end with King Lear in March of next year, performing every work ever written by the bard, including his sonnets and several plays inspired by Shakespeare. Joining us from Stratford-Upon-Avon is Deborah Shaw, the complete works festival director for the Royal Shakespeare Company. Ms. Shaw, thanks very much for being with us.

Ms. DEBORAH SHAW (Royal Shakespeare Company): It's a great pleasure, Scott. Thank you.

SIMON: How many plays you putting on next year?

Ms. SHAW: We thought we were putting on 37 because we were sticking with the first folio number, but we kind of got a bit overexcited, and we seem to have ended up with 54, and the Bloom Flight and the Scientific Experiment and some films.

SIMON: Oh, my word. Now, how does that compare with the ordinary raft of (unintelligible)?

Ms. SHAW: A normal year I guess we have sort of 10 to 12, something like that, but we're doing about 15 different productions and projects, and then we've got lots of friends coming to help.

SIMON: Yeah, well, that's what we want to talk about. We'll explain first that some of them are going to be on the main stage, some in the Courtyard, some in the Swan.

Ms. SHAW: That's right. I think all through the festival we've got about nine different venues, from the church where Shakespeare's buried, where there's going to be a production of Henry VIII, so I think there might be some bone-spinning in that one.

SIMON: Yes, ooh. Yeah.

Ms. SHAW: But our main performance spaces are the RST, the Swan Theater, and then the theater that we've just built called the Courtyard.

SIMON: One production of each play or more than that?

Ms. SHAW: We did start out for one, but occasionally there were projects that were just too interesting to pass up on, so for example, Michael Boyd, the artistic director, is doing Richard III as part of his eight-play history cycle that will go on for two years, but that launches is in the complete works. And then I was talking to Sudaman Albasam(ph), who's a very exciting young Anglo-Kuwaiti director, and all through Saddam's era, really, he was in Kuwait recording the television programs that were coming out of Iraq from just over the border, and the whole way that Saddam was creating himself as an Arab hero, the idea of doing a Richard III early days of Saddam project was just so interesting from this really exciting young director, who writes both in English and in Arabic, and he's doing it with this Arabic company.

You know, we thought, well, those two are so different that, actually, why don't we put them on at the same time so that audiences can really get the experience of both of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities?

SIMON: And companies from all over the world, Berlin, Chicago, Iraq; how did you find them?

Ms. SHAW: Well, I've been traveling around a bit for the past 18 months, but it hasn't been like a kind of supermarket sweep, you know; it's actually been going to visit artists that we're excited by, that we might know already or that we want to know, and then just saying what would you really like to do, and then fitting it all together in a kind of Rubik's cube kind of way.

SIMON: I got to ask about the Tiny Ninja Theater.

Ms. SHAW: Yes, from New York. Dov Weinstein is a fantastic puppeteer, and he developed the Tiny Ninja Theater Company, and they use a little sort of dime plastic figures of Tiny Ninja and other characters, Mister Smiley Face and things like that. But he does a whole Shakespeare, and you either have a pinhole camera showing close-ups or the audience gets opera glasses to look at it. And Hamlet will be doing its, having its premier in Stratford on Avon later this year, and I'm reliably informed that Ophelia drowns in a glass of water.

It's wild and it's fun, but it's also, I think it's got a serious thing behind it, without being too serious about it. It does make you listen to the language because you're looking at these little tiny plastic figures who don't move, and you're investing them with these great tragic figures, and it's done through words.

SIMON: Now, why is this suddenly coming about? It's not like, you know, Shakespeare's 800th birthday or something, right?

Ms. SHAW: It's more about where we are in the life of the company at this moment. It's celebratory, but it's also got a serious purpose of exploring how Shakespeare is performed in a contemporary setting; what he means to different cultures; what he means to different areas of the artform, and kind of looking at the landscape of classical theater at this point, from Ninagawa, a legendary Japanese director, through to, you know, the Tiny Ninjas.

SIMON: Well, it sounds like a wonderful year, Ms. Shaw.

Ms. SHAW: Thank you very much, Scott.

SIMON: Deborah Shaw is the Royal Shakespeare Company's Complete Works Festival director speaking from, of course, Stratford.

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