This week a global celebration of theatre has been occurring. Although there is no accurate record of William Shakespeare's birth, 23rd April (he was baptised 26 April 1564) has long been recognised as the day. The longevity his words and stories have sustained, and the many varying productions, interpretations and forms that they have taken since the 16th century is perhaps a feat that we may not see surpassed.
At Digital Theatre we took this opportunity to remember what Shakespeare means to us as individuals. We are honoured to have been able to film some fantastic versions of his work over the last two years, including As You Like It, Much Ado About Nothing, The Comedy of Errors, and Macbeth, and hope you enjoy reading about our first experiences of his work.
Please feel free to add your own first experiences of the bard and his work in the comment box below, we'd love to hear them.
"For me, one of the first inspirational experiences of theatre I had was watching the RSC’s production of Hamlet with Kenneth Branagh in the early 1990s. I remember going to Stratford for the first time and feeling the buzz around the place about what we were about to see. I was 12 years old I knew that the play was the full 4 hours plus and remember thinking that was such a long time to be sat down! But the time flew by and even back then, once it was all over and we were walking out of the RSC, I knew I had seen a pretty special performance. I will never forget the scene as Hamlet was carried out into bright white light at the back of the auditorium, and the spontaneous standing ovation that followed. Amazing."
Tom Shaw, Executive Producer
"Shakespeare has been in my life for as long as I can remember. When I was young I lived in Italy and I clearly remember a family trip to Verona and my Mum trying to keep her three young children interested in all the sightseeing by telling us all about the Montagues and Capulets. Their ancient grudge was brought vividly to life through her storytelling and I seem to remember standing on a balcony and pretending to be Juliet and giving my rendering of 'O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?'. My first and last attempt at the part. But it was several years later when my Mum played Cleopatra and I sat up going through her lines with her that I was hooked. The barge she sat on like a burmished throne burned on the water, 'The poop was beaten gold' was the most exotic poem I'd ever heard. I dreamed I met an emperor, Antony, 'O for such another dream that I might be such another man', the saddest lament of love and almost more than my 14 year old self could bear. At 16 I was lucky enough to get to speak the words out myself when I was given the part of Rosalind and through rehearsing and performing learnt so much about love, sex, friendship, heartbreak, joy. I just loved listening to Celia's line 'O wonderful, wonderful, wonderful and yet again more wonderful so full of fun and mischief' and got so excited by the words 'it's not the fashion to see the lady the epilogue but it is not more unhandsome than seeing the Lord the prologue'. I was lost. Shakespeare's words and stories had my heart and still do."
Fiona Lindsay, Creative Producer
"I played the Prince in Romeo and Juliet at school. My girlfriend and love of my life played Juliet. I never got over the heartbreak of seeing her kiss my friend who was playing Romeo every night. We eventually broke up and thirty years later I can't see the play without thinking of her so for me Romeo and Juliet is a romantic tragedy in so many ways. Although it was a traumatic experience, early on in life, it shows how Shakespeare is able to hone in on real human emotion, connect to experiences and have a lasting effect, no matter how much time passes by."
Robert Stannett, Financial Director
"For me, Shakespeare will always be intrinsically linked with a small valley in the Catskill Mountains in New York State, USA. Not the most usual of associations, I'm sure! As the daughter of an American (my Mother, my Father is English), my summers were often spent 'across the pond', and although the context was different, the issue of 'what to do with the kids' was constant. Luckily for both my parents and me, West Kortwright had a thriving local arts centre (www.westkc.org) that offered a Shakespeare Summer School for 12-18 year olds. With a British accent and some prior acting experience, I slipped under the wire aged 11, and made friends for life - both with my fellow students, and with Shakespeare. His language, drama and comedy were the backdrop to my teenage years, and the memory of performing his work outside, under a blanket of stars with friends – whose children now come to visit me in London to have a taste of ‘real theatre!’ – is one that never wanes in its warmth. And it certainly equipped me with the majority of my lasting Shakespearean knowledge, even if sometimes I accidentally pronounce things with an American twang!"
Rachael Castell, New Business Consultant
"I think the first time I was really moved by Shakespeare was watching Baz Luhrman's excellent version of Romeo and Juliet. I had studied R&J before at about 11 years old, and although I had always been really intrigued by his use of language and rhythm, I'm not sure if I ever really understood it. This was the first time I had seen a modern interpretation of Shakespeare, and the first time I really knew the intensity and feeling behind the words he wrote. I think that's one of the most interesting things about Shakespeare, how timeless his stories are, how they can be placed in different frames and still be completely relevant. He's a fantastic storyteller, and it's always such a joy to watch a different version of one of his plays, portrayed in a new and unique way, allowing you to understand it, or see it differently. I was so blown away by the portrayal that I learnt the scene where Romeo and Juliet met off by heart; it's something I can still recite now."
Rhea Mehmet, Marketing and Sales Assistant
"The first time I really began to engage with Shakespeare and his work was at secondary school. I vividly remember studying The Merchant of Venice and being very inspired by Portia and the ingenuity she employed to ensure that Antonio’s life was spared. I was hooked by his writing after this point and went eagerly to the school library to hire out his complete works, however this enthusiasm quickly dwindled because the book was printed on tissue thin paper, with double columns and tiny text.??In 2010 Digital Theatre recorded and made available online the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of The Comedy of Errors in association with Told by an Idiot and directed by Paul Hunter. The play was specially created for schools and family audiences and was suitable for students aged seven and upwards. This resource is a wonderful and rich resource which engages the student in the text via theatre performance, I only wish that resources like this were more readily available when I was at school."
Nicole Gallagher, Digital Projects Manager
"I first started reading Shakespeare when I was about 10 years old. The fascinating thing about his work is that it can be related to current life as there are many themes which resonate - the duplicity and manipulation of Iago, the blind love of Bottom for Titania and her infatuation with him, as well as the colourful and humorous themes of his other plays. I also love experiencing the differences in all of his productions as they are wide ranging, and I also find it wonderful how he brings to life the era that he lived in giving us a flavour of all people in his plays from Kings and Queens to servants and courtiers. His writing is extremely expressive and allows you to imagine how and where people lived, what they wore, what they ate and the living conditions they experienced. It's also very exciting and has you almost squirming at times where you just know what’s going to happen and can't stop it!
He is very funny at times as well as being tragic which is an interesting juxtaposition of emotions across his work. One minute you can be crying with laughter and the next crying with sadness. I'm not sure which of his plays I like the best but Othello would definitely be up there."
Suzie Rendle, Operations Manager
"Thinking about Shakespeare’s plays conjures up a lot of memories. Mainly of studying at school or university, but also of some brilliant theatre performances, live and digital. My favourite Shakespeare play is probably The Tempest. It’s got it all, storm and shipwreck, magic and adventure, strange creatures and lovers, enchanting spells and, last but not least meta-theatre. (You can see the academic coming through with that one.) But – to cut a long essay short – I still find it remarkable how “theatrical” Prospero’s magic is, how it coincides again and again with stage directions, notes about the mechanics of the stage creaking as the next trick is being wheeled into sight to stun and amaze...."
Katharina Schulz, Digital Content Co-ordinator
& Customer Administration Officer
"When I first got asked to write this, my thoughts turned to Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare's most popular romantic play. However, it was Othello that really got my attention. This was for many reasons, mainly though, the characters Shakespeare created in this particular play are so intriguing and involve so many complex feelings. In my opinion Othello is a great case study of the human behaviour. Iago goes through a range of feelings (jealousy, ego, rejection and revenge) that he just couldn't cope with. His talent for understanding and manipulating the desires of those around him makes him both a powerful and a compelling figure. He is a very complex character and I believe the villain inspiration for most of actors and actress around the world."
Andrea Dos Santos, Technical Administrator