WORK begins this month on the RSC’s new-look The Other Place.
The iconic Stratford studio theatre is set to re-open in 2016 to coincide with the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. The project is being made possible thanks to the support of private and public funders, including generous donations from The Gatsby Charitable Foundation and The Backstage Trust, a £3 million Arts Council England lottery grant, and a new collaboration with the University of Birmingham.
Originally built in 1973, the theatre was home to the RSC’s developmental and new work, housing many landmark productions with RSC alumni such as Judi Dench, Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren.
The theatre closed in 2006 to make way for the temporary Courtyard Theatre, where the RSC performed during the transformation of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.
The new Other Place will include a 200-seat flexible studio theatre, built within the external steel structure of The Courtyard Theatre, two new rehearsal rooms, and a new home for the RSC’s 30,000 piece costume store, giving people access for the first time via theatre tours.
Under the leadership of Erica Whyman, RSC Deputy Artistic Director, the theatre will be a festival venue for RSC productions, with new work festivals taking place twice a year.
As a creative hub, it will house rehearsals, research and development, and training for artists throughout the year. Local amateur groups will be able to use the theatre for rehearsals and performances, and the venue will provide additional performance space for the company’s work with young people and the local community.
The Other Place will also be available for commercial hires, raising valuable income to support the RSC’s artistic programme.
The RSC has also announced a new five year collaboration with the University of Birmingham and its Stratford-based Shakespeare Institute – rooted in the vision of The Other Place as a centre for creative and academic exchange.
Students will have access to creative and teaching spaces at The Other Place, with RSC artists and practitioners providing input to undergraduate and postgraduate courses.
The collaboration will develop a laboratory for theatre artists working with scholars and students in creative experiments exploring connections between the arts, the academy, and society at large.
Erica Whyman, RSC Deputy Artistic Director, said: “I am hugely excited about re-imagining The Other Place as a vibrant, creative space, embodying the challenging and alternative spirit of the original. It will be an exemplary home for theatre artists, and a space where students, our actors, visiting theatre makers and our audiences can really feel part of the “engine room” of the RSC.
“The theatre will house a beautiful new studio theatre and multi-functional spaces for rehearsal, teaching, research, technical fit-out, digital capture, conferences and entertaining. We will also be able to use the space to generate income from commercial hires to support our work.
“Our collaboration with the University of Birmingham is a brilliant opportunity for students to get right into the heart of the RSC, using the theatre and its resources as part of their undergraduate and postgraduate studies. Their presence, alongside our artists, will bring a real energy to the building.
“Our award-winning Midsummer Mischief festival in summer 2014 gave a flavour of what’s to come in The Other Place. In 2016, the theatre will be back as a new resource for the 21st century for the RSC, our partners and our audiences. We are very grateful to all our funders who have made this possible – including a major Lottery grant from Arts Council England, The Gatsby Charitable Foundation and The Backstage Trust.’
Professor Sir David Eastwood, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Birmingham, was equally enthusiastic.
He said: “This is a hugely exciting collaboration that builds on our existing relationship with the RSC and promises to have enormous benefits for both parties – not least the opportunity to combine our world-leading arts research with the RSC’s cutting-edge artistic practice. Our students will undoubtedly benefit from the numerous teaching and creative opportunities afforded by this innovative project, and I am very much looking forward to seeing how it progresses.”
* Arts Council England has also awarded a £2.1 million lottery grant for the renovation of the RSC’s Costume Workshop, one of the largest in-house departments in the UK, situated opposite the RST and Swan Theatre. Planning for the redevelopment of the buildings is currently underway and work will begin in 2017, following the completion of The Other Place and the redevelopment of the Swan Wing which has just got underway.
History of The Other Place
The Other Place was the Royal Shakespeare Company’s original studio theatre in Stratford. It began life as a tin shed rehearsal room and in 1974, following a series of experimental theatre projects such as Actors Commando and Theatregoround, it was converted into a studio space for adventurous and experimental work by contemporary writers.
The Other Place was the brainchild of Buzz Goodbody, the pioneering visionary at the helm of its artistic direction in its early days, who made it the most productive tin shed in theatre history. Inspired by the revolutionary spirit of the alternative theatre movements occurring throughout Britain, Buzz created an unconventional auditorium, which aimed to create a sense of community and intimacy between actors and audience. This was a period of great change, altering the face of British theatre forever; with the earliest signs beginning in 1960 when Peter Hall joined the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre as Artistic Director with the objective to ‘to express Shakespeare’s intentions in terms that modern audiences could understand.’
The Other Place was closed in 1989 for two years of rebuilding, and reopened its doors in 1991 with a permanent brick building. This building later closed and was adapted as a foyer to The Courtyard Theatre which housed RSC productions during the transformation of the RST and Swan theatres.
The Other Place to be. The Courtyard Theatre which was built to stand in for the RST during its rennovation. (s)