BUZZ Goodbody had a vision back in the early 1970s which became The Other Place – the RSC’s affectionately nicknamed ‘tin shed’ which for 30 years was a focus for adventurous theatre experimentation.
The RSC’s first female director – whose untimely death in 1975 came just a year after The Other Place opened – may not recognise the physical embodiment of the new Other Place, but she would certainly recognise the spirit driving it.
The RSC’s original studio theatre closed in 2005 to make way for Courtyard Theatre – the ‘rusty shed’ which became the company’s main Stratford home during the transformation of the RST – but it has now undergone a £7.8million transformation ahead of its opening later this month.
The new Other Place, within the shell of the ‘rusty shed’, will be far more than the RSC’s third Stratford theatre. As well as a 200 seater theatre, it will also be new home to the company’s 40,000 plus strong costume store over three floors, and two huge gymnasium-like rehearsal rooms, while the former Courtyard foyer has become a cafe.
And through a From Page to Stage tour, the Other Place will offer visitors a “real flavour of the company in action” in the words of deputy artistic director Erica Whyman, who has been leading the project. People will get a chance to see everything from the costume store to rehearsals via a first floor window looking onto the ground floor rehearsal room, which is large enough to fit the entire RST and Barbican stages, making the transfer of productions that much easier.
The Courtyard became much-loved by theatre-goers, and the transformation project, which only started a year ago, has cleverly incorporated much of the Courtyard structure and look – of red steelwork and plywood – into the new look Other Place.
The result is a dramatic looking building and one that Erica hopes will become both a space where people can come to “relax and hang out” and also an “engine room for new ideas”.
In collaboration with the University of Birmingham and its Stratford-based Shakespeare Institute – The Other Place will also be a centre for creative and academic exchange.
And it will be available for hire for everything from business conferences to wedding receptions.
The stage will not be the focus of a year round programme of scheduled work, but rather two festival seasons a year – such as the successful A Midsummer Mischief festival of new works by female writers held last summer on a makeshift stage.
The Other Place will also welcome visiting and amateur companies – and Stratford Musical Theatre Company will be among the first when they stage hit musical Godspell this Easter.
Erica is determined The Other Place will retain its radical spirit of old – which staged landmark productions with RSC alumni such as Judi Dench, Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren – and also offer a platform for new writers and new work.
“I think its very important the work of The Other Place is radical and is prepared to say what it thinks.
“We are living through quite complex times both politically and economically so there’s a lot say, and it feels to me that through The Other Place we can rather more directly say those things.
“But it really matters to me that we connect that thinking, that conscience, that spirit with the work of Shakespeare and with the spirit of the RSC.
“It seems to me that the Shakespeare repertoire and that of his contemporaries, to a greater or lesser degree, had a strong sense of the world in which they were living and how quickly it was changing, and how they were having to reconfigure their values, reconfigure what they thought of the world and their politics – something I think we inherit directly from them in our theatre and something we can get hold of at The Other Place.”
But Erica is determined The Other Place does not become ” a place of dour deliberation and debate” but remains a place “of entertainment, enjoyment, playfulness fun”.
“My ideal vision for the place in bringing different quite a lot of diiferent people together making sure the work of the RSC includes new thinking and radical thinking and thinking with a political conscience.
“I’ve been coining the phase a radical mischief – it feels it’s got to be mischievous here, it’s got to be possible to do something naughty, but also somewhere we can tackle those big issues, big themes, and big ideas.”
The Other Place opens on March 21, and the first From Page to Stage tour takes place on Thursday March 24.
visit www.rsc.org.uk for full details.