We got back yesterday from spending three days in Stratford on Avon, Shakespeare’s birthplace. The first day we had a talk from a tutor and his wife about the history of Stratford and Shakespeare and Julius Caesar, which is the play we were seeing that night. Then we went to Shakespeare’s birthplace, which was a really cute Tudor cottage (see photo below). They had it all laid out with fake food and stuff, which seems a little silly to me, but it was still a cool place to be. It’s crazy how long things can last when people want them too. I also noticed how they seem to fill out the properties with some really beautiful gardens that I honestly could probably spend hours in.
We went to see Julius Caesar at the Royal Shakespeare Company in the evening, which I managed to take no pictures of, although it was very dark and therefore difficult to see, so they wouldn’t have looked great anyways. As one would expect, it was absolutely phenomenal. All of the performances had so much life and drive to them. I’ve spent a lot of time with Shakespeare, I’ve been in three shows and studied or read a bunch more, so I don’t find it too hard to follow the language and shows, and I think they made it even easier, the language sounded very natural. Between the two plays we saw, they were using a lot of the same set elements, but one of the things I thought was especially well done was that they had a bunch of pieces of the stage (it was a thrust stage, so on the thrust) that rose and would bring up platforms for the eulogy speeches after Caesar’s death, benches for other scenes, things like that. I would absolutely love to have seen what below the stage looked like.
On Wednesday, we started the day with a talk back about the show we saw, which was pretty good. Then we had a Q&A with the actor who played Brutus, whose name is James, which was really interesting. For instance, I found out that there is a theater in Wales that performs Shakespeare and is in a willow tree, I’m not 100% sure how that works, but it sounds really cool. They also do all of their shows gender-swapped. He was really nice and answered all of our questions honestly and pretty thoroughly, which I appreciated, especially since I think people often expect that actors do or think certain things. For example, he basically said that at one point, he didn’t really know what he was doing, and I think people often expect that actors have grand insights into their characters.
Afterwards, we went to Anne Hathaway’s cottage (see photo below), which was absolutely stunning. The cottage itself was what you would expect, a cute Tudor cottage like Shakespeare’s birthplace. But the gardens around it were super beautiful. There was a small wood that seemed to me to be the perfect place to do A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and had a little walk through it that was really beautiful, and it was sunny and a good temperature for it. There was also a sculpture walk that I didn’t manage to get to, and a lawn bowling set in one garden that was already slightly broken. It was also one of those places that I could stay at and sit in for hours. Allegedly, there was also a lavender maze, but we think we found it and it was pretty dead.
We then had time for lunch and some free time, so I got lunch, and then myself and two other people went to the butterfly farm, which was an absolute delight. It did cost money to get it, but within about three steps of going into the butterfly room, a butterfly landed on the shoulder of Kateri, who was one of the students with me. It was a very chill butterfly, it just hung out there, then flew for a bit, then landed back on her head and hung out there as we walked along. After a little bit, he flew up again and I put my hand out and he actually landed on it (see photo below). Once again, he just hung out there as we walked along a little ways. Oddly, I have a history of butterflies landing on me, but it’s still super cool every time. I also raised some monarch butterflies when I was a kid, so I have a history with them and I really love butterfly farms and the like. They also had a few rooms with other animals like a chameleon and snakes and spiders, etc. There were also a bunch of ants and in one room had ropes connecting different ant tanks and you could look up and watch the ants crawling along the ropes, which I thought was really cool.
Then we had a workshop with the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), that was basically an acting workshop. I really enjoyed it because I was already pretty familiar with some of the exercises we were doing because I did a lot of them when I did theater as an actor. The person leading my workshop didn’t fully seem to understand that not everyone in the room, actually almost no one in the room beside like four of us, had any acting training going into it, so there were parts where people were a little confused about what was going on, but this is the first time ASE has done this, so I think that as time goes on, it’ll become clearer. We did a lot of work with the text of Antony & Cleopatra, which I liked because I always like working with Shakespeare text. I think it also did help to gain some familiarity with the show that made it better. Overall, I liked doing it because I haven’t really done acting workshop things in a while, so it was nice to go back to it for a bit and just have fun.
We had a free evening, so I got Indian food for dinner with Rachel and Kateri at a place called Thespians, which fits the town, but I wouldn’t have pegged it as an Indian food place if asked. Then we wandered around, saw a really beautiful sunset, and ended up across the river from the RSC theater where we stood and talked in a gazebo and watched the back end of them doing Julius Caesar, which was kinda cool. We eventually ended up at a pub called The Dirty Duck, where about half of the program ended up that night as well. It’s also the pub that all of the actors go to after their show finishes, so we ended up chatting with them too. I mostly talked to the actor who played Octavius, who is only 23, but was also just a friendly and nice guy. They were all pretty nice people, and it was interesting to talk to them in the context of just a pub, whereas a lot of the British people I’ve talked to have been in the context of me meeting and working with them as a student of ASE.
On Thursday, we started out with some more talks, and then I went on a brief, and I mean very brief, tour of the few remaining places of note related to Shakespeare, which were the Guild Hall, New Place (one of the places he lived), and Trinity Church (where he is buried). New Place isn’t an actual house, because the real one burned down, so again, it was mostly gardens, although they were very pretty. It was pretty crazy to me to look at Shakespeare’s grave (see photo below) because he’s become one of those people who is talked about so much and is so well known that he doesn’t seem like a real person, but when staring down at where his remains are, you really grasp how real he is. Especially since I really love Shakespeare plays, it kinda hit me and was a really cool moment.
The last thing we did in Stratford was see Antony and Cleopatra, which was absolutely phenomenal. Cleopatra was played by Josette Simon, who did an amazing job. I preferred it to Julius Caesar, partially because it was a bit more stylized in a way that I think tied it all together better. They also used the rising and falling of the floor pieces more and really effectively. A fair number of the actors from Julius Caesar were also in Antony and Cleopatra, including many of the ones we met at the pub, so it was interesting to see them in different roles in a very different show.
I’m really glad that we had the opportunity to go to Stratford and see shows and go to all of the important places. This week we have finals, so I will be working on that and revising my dissertation for my internship, as well as beginning to think about packing.