This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England!
-William Shakespeare (Richard II; 2.1)
It's official. The Grassroots Shakespeare Company, Utah's only free outdoor Shakespeare troupe offering "original practices" theatre, has started a new troupe in Exeter, England. We couldn't be more thrilled!
See, I'm across the pond studying Shakespeare at the University of Exeter, and during my summer break I wanted to see if the Grassroots seeds we sewed last May in Orem would grow here on the Bard's home turf as well. So, on a bit of a whim, I contacted the Bike Shed Theatre and arranged to perform as part of the first-ever Exeter Fringe Festival. They were delighted.
As the festival grew near, we assembled a cast, picked a play, and began rehearsals. This was on a Wednesday - our first performance was to be that Saturday. You can see where this is going.
After four short rehearsals, Romeo & Juliet opened in Exeter. Of course, the Grassroots troupe in Utah had been performing the same play... but ours was a bit different. Juliet/Mercutio, for example, was played by Tom:
This, and other experiments with gender-blind casting, gave the show a very playful feel. And with only a few hours of rehearsal, our performances stayed nice and loose as well - just the way we like it.
We had a successful run, with highlights including the words "live long and prosper," and "Isengard" being seamlessly integrated into Friar Lawrence's torrents of bad advice.
We also had some pretty legit fight choreography, courtesy of a couple local professionals who generously donated their time and talent on our behalf.
And finally, we had an onstage Prompter, played by our lovely RADA grad Siobhan, who kept the audience apprised of scene changes, entrances, and in one particularly awkward moment - exits as well.
Happily, our audiences took the journey with us. The show was funny, unpredictable, and always fresh. As we vacated the stage after our first performance, someone in the audience offered the first review of Grassroots in the UK: "That was the weirdest Shakespeare show I've ever seen."
Much obliged. :)
As a result of our first show in the UK, we've been invited to perform an outdoor comedy in Kingsbridge later this month, and to produce a Grassroots version of King Lear for Exeter College in September! Look for it!
Can Grassroots grow in England?
Forsooth, we can!