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Dynamic collaboration

RSC & U-M explore creative process in developing plays

March, 2012

What goes into creating a layered and complex theatrical production of world-class quality? Why now, more than ever, is it essential to make a home where artists are uninhibited and unbridled to pursue and refine their creative work?And what logistical, cultural, and linguistic challenges must be resolved when interpreting international works of theater?

These are just a few of the questions to be addressed during the Royal Shakespeare Company’s visit, in association with the

University of Michigan and University Musical Society, one of the world’s leading cultural presenters.  Through workshops, which began March 10, members of the RSC is exploring the creative possibilities of two plays being prepared for “A World Elsewhere,” a season which the RSC is offering this fall at its Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. (PHOTO RIGHT: RSC’s Gregory Doran in rehearsal for “Written on the Heart.” Photo by Ellie Kurtz.)

Both plays-in-development in “Creative Residency 2012” have origins in works dating from Shakespeare’s own time, but created in “a world elsewhere.” RSC Artistic Director Michael Boyd will direct a workshop on “Boris Godunov,” by Alexander Pushkin, in a new version by Adrian Mitchell.  Gregory Doran, Chief Associate Director, will direct a workshop on “The Orphan of Zhao,” the first Chinese play to be produced in Europe.  This second play is a new adaptation by James Fenton, based on a version by Ju Junxiang that was published in 1615.

A day-long symposium on Monday, March 12 features Chinese experts from around the world, brought to the workshop by U-M’s Confucius Institute under the direction of Joseph Lam (photo left), Professor of Musicology at U-M’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance and expert in traditional Chinese music.

During the upcoming visit, there will be a creative team of six actors, along with the two directors, voice and movement coaches and the RSC’s dramaturg.  Joining them will be actors from the New York-based LAByrinth Theater Company. The public is invited at no cost to attend a number of public workshops, readings and discussions.

U-M students will be involved in the project: students of acting in the Theatre Department will join in rehearsals; two students in directing will serve as Assistant Directors.  Directors characteristically visit classes; the  voice and movement coaches do workshops.

This parallels the activities of students two years ago, during “Creative Project 2010,” when the RSC developed three plays:  1.) A reimagining ofShakespeare’s “lost” play, “Cardenio,” directed by the RSC’s Gregory Doran; 2.) David Edgar’s “Written on the Heart,” a play which focuses on the last stages of the formation of the King James Bible; and, 3.) “The Heresy of Love,” a story of 17th-century Mexican writer and nun, Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz, written by Helen Edmundson.  Sor Juana is considered by some critics as the most significant writer in the western hemisphere prior to Emerson and Whitman. (PHOTO RIGHT: Jamie Ballard in rehearsal for “Written on the Heart.” Photo by Ellie Kurtz.)

As a result of the work completed in “Creative Residency 2010” all three plays were produced for performance at Stratford-upon-Avon. “Written on the Heart” and “The Heresy of Love” are currently being performed, while “Cardenio” ran from late spring through October of last year.

These workshops occur on the heels of the RSC’s successful U.S. residency last summer, where it performed five plays in repertory—plus two Young People’s Shakespeare productions—in New York’s Park Avenue Armory.   That residency was presented by the Park Avenue Armory and Lincoln Center Festival, in association with The Ohio State University.

The RSC has a long-standing relationship with American audiences and patrons, many of whom see the company perform at its home in England’s Stratford-upon-Avon.  The recent New York residency has encouraged the company to further develop its audiences—and its work—in the U.S.  Universities such as U-M provide a special haven for the RSC’s developmental process.

“The interactions among the RSC members, U-M faculty and students makes for an exciting exploration of the creative process,” said Gary Krenz, special counsel to U-M President Mary Sue Coleman.

Since 2001, Krenz along with Ralph Williams (photo left), acclaimed teacher of Shakespeare and professor emeritus, and UMS’ Kenneth Fischer have cultivated a relationship with RSC.  A decade ago, U-M was the first American university to partner with the company in an elaborate program of performance and education.

“Together, we will draw on each other’s strengths at the crucial stage of the creative process,” said Williams, who will host a conversation with Michael Boyd, Artistic Director of the RSC on Sunday, March 18.

“The writers, directors, and actors can draw on the expertise of scholars in many fields at the precise time when all aspects of the production – including script – are still open to creative exploration and development.”

With RSC’s upcoming visit, there is growing attention to U-M’s role as a “creative force,” offering a campus of scholars, experts, students and state-of-the-art facilities to cultivate new works. (PHOTO RIGHT/BELOW: Marty Cruickshank and Dona Croll in rehearsal for “The Heresy of Love.” Photo by Stewart Hemley.)

In January, Robert Wilson and Philip Glass – arguably one of the most prolific and influential American composers – took over the Power Center for nearly a month to remount one of the most significant and controversial musical works of the twentieth century, “Einstein on the Beach.” Drawing on U-M’s technical resources, Wilson and Glass refined their collaboration before the production set out on an international tour. A few years ago, drawing on the assistance of U-M music students, Jessye Norman and composer Laura Karpman put together an on-book production of their collaboration, “Ask Your Mama,” based on Langston Hughes’ cycle poem.

“Creating and conveying the arts to inspire, captivate and educate is part of our mission,” said U-M President Mary Sue Coleman.

For complete event information, visit www.montage.umich.edu/rsc. For information on the Royal Shakespeare Company, please visit http://www.rsc.org.uk/

– BY KATE GORMAN

Kate Gorman is a project facilitator at the University of Michigan. Frank Provenzano, from U-M News Service, contributed to this article.

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