AMERICANS are being given the chance to play their part in the upkeep of the Shakespeare houses.
The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust has founded a new non-profit group to support and promote its work in the USA.
Shakespeare’s Birthplace America (SBA) will enable American supporters to make a contribution to the conservation of the five Shakespeare family homes in and around Stratford.
The Trust, which receives no regular direct government funding or public subsidy, relies on income generated through the support of visitors, donors, grant funders, volunteers and Friends.
SBA is inviting supporters to join a special patron scheme – with four levels of subscription starting at $1,000 and rising to $10,000.
Patrons will have the opportunity to attend a variety of exclusive events, including an annual reception and special talks by visiting experts from the Trust in the USA, and the annual Shakespeare’s Birthday Celebrations in Stratford.
Funds provided by SBA patrons will be used to conserve the Shakespeare family homes and also to maintain and preserve the museum, library and archive collections in the care of the Trust.
The foundation of the new non-profit organisation will also enable the Trust to increase its event programmes for supporters in America, to build on its established educational and outreach activity across the US, and to develop more partnerships with organisations Stateside.
Last year American education groups accounted for half of the residential educational courses hosted by the Trust in Stratford. More than 50 US universities and schools have joined the Trust’s residential education programmes.
Trust director Dr Diana Owen said: “The people of America have a long-standing affinity with the world’s best-known playwright, and a tradition of Shakespearean theatre-making which leaves the rest of the world standing.
“For more than two centuries, successive generations of Americans have beaten a path to Shakespeare’s Birthplace in ever growing numbers; today they account for one in eight of the 800,000 visitors we welcome each year to the Shakespeare family homes.
“We are founding Shakespeare’s Birthplace America as a way to celebrate and build on the tremendous support we already enjoy in the United States, so that we can do even more to enable the people worldwide to discover more about William Shakespeare and his life.”
Shakespeare and America
In 1786 future Presidents John Adams – then the first American ambassador in England – and his friend Thomas Jefferson visited the house where Shakespeare was born.
Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S Grant and Theodore Roosevelt were among the American leaders who followed in their footsteps.
In 1964 the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s director Levi Fox visited Lyndon Johnson in the White House to present a set of commemorative medals struck for the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth.
Showman PT Barnum played a surprising role in the foundation of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in 1847. When rumours began to circulate that Barnum planned to transport the house where Shakespeare was born to New York, a British group including the writer Charles Dickens started a campaign to save the then derelict building for the British nation.
Today the five Shakespeare family homes welcome more than 800,000 visitors each year, including 100,000 from North America.
Bard in the USA
The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and the University of Warwick have just concluded the first phase of a unique project to discover and document the untold story of the Bard in the USA in the 450th anniversary of his birth.
The Shakespeare on the Road project aims to capture, for the first time, a comprehensive picture of Shakespeare’s place in contemporary American culture through the voices of artists and audiences across the continent. It was also a reverse pilgrimage, celebrating the USA’s range of Shakespearean performance in classic road trip/travel writing fashion online.
Nearly every state, including Hawaii and Alaska, has its own seasonal festival devoted to the playwright. There are actually more Shakespeare theatre companies in California alone than there are in the whole of the UK.
Over 60 days, the Shakespeare on the Road project team travelled 10,000 miles to see dozens of Shakespeare productions at 14 Shakespeare festivals across the length and breadth of North America.
Entrepreneurial social media company Misfit Inc documented the epic road trip on the project’s dedicated web site, www.shakespeareontheroad.com.
At each festival the project team gave presentations about Shakespeare on the Road and the work of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.
Festivals across North America were invited to deposit material in the Trust’s archives to represent their activities and there will also be a book based on the project.