All they have to do is to stage a performance based on any of Shakespeare’s plays or stories, in any medium – dance, music, video, radio, or anything else – during April, the month of Shakespeare’s birth and death. Then they are asked to send a record of the performance to the organisers, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-upon-Avon, for preservation in a millennium archive. The record can be a photograph, video, review, or on the Internet.
The New Millennium Experience Company has provided funding for eight projects involving professional theatre companies who are working with young people on their Shakespeare performances.
A school in Swindon which is registering for the project has signed up 28 other schools, with which it plans to perform the entire Shakespeare canon during the first two weeks of April. More than 1,000 children will be involved in staging 30-minute performances of every play he wrote.
Another school, in East Sussex, is putting on a musical version of Twelfth Night. The project is the idea of Teresa O’Connor, of the Birthplace Trust, who says it is meant to make sure that Shakespeare and the theatre are passed on to the next generation. She told BBC News Online: ‘It seemed a very obvious thing, if we were going to have a big celebration of the millennium, to have a Shakespeare celebration, because he’s part of our heritage. And it has to be for the young. So often Shakespeare is thought of as middle-class, middle-aged, and for middle England. He’s not. The project has a lot to do with self-esteem. If people can do Shakespeare, they can do the best.’
Meanwhile, the University of Kent researchers began their own project, which underlines the fact that Shakespeare may be still very popular today. The university researchers are developing stage sets generated by a computer and projected onto stage. The use of ‘virtual’ scenery in live theatre is being explored, which would allow sets to be changed at the press of a button and elaborate designs to be attempted in small theatres. Later this year, the university hopes to use the system for a student production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare. The use of computer animation is well established in cinema, with virtual images mixed in with live performances. Now techniques are being developed to create a virtual-reality experience for a theatre audience, in which images can be placed on stage. The work is being assisted by Mark Reaney, a visiting academic from the University of Kansas in the United States, where he is head of the Institute for the Exploration of Virtual Realities. Mr Reaney has been working on interactive sets in the United States for six years – and is spending six months at the University of Kent, where he will work on A Midsummer Night’s Dream with the School of Drama, Film and Visual Arts. The computer sets can give designers greater freedom of expression, ‘freeing the stage from its physical confines,’ he said to the BBC. ‘You can have apparently solid objects moving through the air.’
Compiled by Pavel Stroilov, School No.730 graduate