SHAKESPEARE is hitting the road Stateside.
A Shakespeare on the Road team on July 4 – which also happens to be American Independece Day – started on an epic road trip all around North America in a unique project to discover and document the untold story of the Bard in the USA.
The project – a collaborative venture by The University of Warwick and The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust – 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.
And one thing they are guaranteed to find is a passion for the Bard.
The amount of Shakespearean theatre-making in America dwarves that of any other country, the UK included. Every summer from sea to shining sea – from spit-and-sawdust performances in local parks to slick professional productions in reconstructed Elizabethan playhouses – the Bard busts out all over the USA.
Nearly every state – including Hawaii and Alaska – has its own seasonal festival devoted to the playwright.
There are actually more dedicated Shakespeare companies in California alone than there are in the whole of the UK. Shakespeare may not have been born in the USA, but from the founding of the republic to the present day, he appears to be immensely at home there.
Project leaders Dr Paul Prescott, Associate Professor at the University of Warwick, and Rev Dr Paul Edmondson, Head of Research and Knowledge at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, explained their aim.
“We will be visiting 14 Shakespeare festivals across the length and breadth of North America starting on July 4 in Kansas City and ending in Washington DC in early September. Over 60 days, we’ll travel roughly 10,000 miles, see dozens of Shakespeare productions and meet hundreds of the people who – year in, year out – give fresh life to Shakespeare across the country.
“Our ambition is to take the pulse of Shakespeare’s presence in American culture in the 450th anniversary of his birth.
“Along the way, we speak to actors, audience members, creatives, community organizers, philanthropists and hot-dog sellers about what Shakespeare means to them and their community.
“Why, in the face of patchy funding and an often indifferent mainstream culture, do they keep doing Shakespeare? What does the ubiquity of Shakespeare in the USA say about American attitudes to Britain and British culture?
“All too often, Americans are expected to make the pilgrimage to the UK – and especially Stratford-upon-Avon – to pay homage and to learn how Shakespeare ‘should be done’. We want to reverse the direction of pilgrimage and showcase how much the rest of the world has to learn from the rich and varied versions of Shakespeare produced annually in North America.”
Visit www.shakespeareontheroad.com to follow the unfolding journey.