Photo: Bust of William Shakespeare, John Michael Rysbrack, Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery
If you’ve ever tried to ‘break the ice’, worn ‘your heart upon your sleeve’, or celebrated a ‘brave new world’, then you’re already familiar with Shakespeare! This sixteenth century playwright has provided us with countless fantastic plays, including original phrases that we use within our speech every day. What most people don’t know is that Shakespeare has an important and exciting link to Birmingham, as we are the only city with a publicly-owned Shakespeare collection.
This collection is situated within the Library of Birmingham, and a Shakespeare Memorial Library Room was built specially by George Dawson, the radical preacher and lecturer. He created the ‘everything to everybody’ ethos, which argues that we all should be able to access and enjoy the material.
Highlights of the collection include 70 editions of plays published before 1709, and foreign editions in over 93 languages! To celebrate this diversity, the ‘Everything To Everybody’ project created this video, which includes Birmingham people performing Shakespeare’s words in their own native tongues.
Shakespeare and Virtual Reality
Shakespeare doesn’t just transcend the realms of geography and ethnicity, but also reaches into the digital world of virtual reality! The Royal Shakespeare Company recently collaborated with Marshmallow Laser Feast to produce ‘Dream’ a virtual-reality production based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Visitors were invited to join the mysterious fairy Puck, and step into a magical forest with new surprises around every corner.
The production used light and sound to engage the virtual audience, with forest leaves rustling and the dazzling light of the moon. There was also an option to interact: viewers could launch on-screen fireflies into the forest-scape to guide Puck’s way. All of this was accompanied by Shakespeare’s brilliant words: ‘woods, thou art as wide as thou art beautiful’.
Along the way, Puck met other forest spirits, such as the captivating flying Moth, and the ominous cobweb, revealing only one eyeball to the audience. A dangerous storm rocked the forest, meaning that the spirits had to work together to preserve the landscape. This reminded the audience of the fragile nature of our world, as we enter a global climate emergency.
Towards the end, the camera panned out to reveal the innovative way that the actors worked together, wearing special suits to capture themselves within the forest landscape. It was a perfect example of how technology can be used to provide access to theatre, particularly during the pandemic. What’s more, there were over 7,257 viewers!
Shakespeare is constantly being used to push the boundaries of art, and here at Art at the Heart, we want to encourage you to do the same. How will you celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday this year? You could perform one of his sonnets, or famous play speeches, to your family, or even put on a mini-production!