Shakespeare Club story to be told

Susan Brock and Sylvia Morris’s book “Long life to the club Called Shakspearean”: the story of the Shakespeare Club of Stratford-upon-Avon, is to be published during the autumn. It will be in full colour, priced at £12.99 Full details will be available on the site later in the summer.

The Club has been responsible for organising the first local festivities for Shakespeare’s Birthday on 23 April  in 1827, 1830 and 1833 and played a major role in sustaining and developing the Birthday Celebrations through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  It held a dinner to commemorate the Birthday more or less every year throughout the nineteenth century. The Club’s members contributed to the Shakespeare tercentenary celebrations of 1864 and 1916 and it broadened the appeal of the town’s Birthday celebrations nationally and internationally in the first decade of the twentieth century, introducing the floral procession and the unfurling of flags.

The Club’s story is an alternative history of Stratford-upon-Avon, in which the people of Stratford asserted their pride in Shakespeare as a local poet by celebrating his birthday their own way, as Stratford transformed  itself into a place of pilgrimage and a cultural centre.  This book is the story of the efforts of the Club to make Shakespeare count in his home town for nearly two hundred years , to keep itself afloat in hard times and to establish its place, after the glory days,  as a focus for local Shakespeare enthusiasts.

Shakespeare Club mentors students

Margaret Cunnington, Marie Solomon, Emma Dawson and John Cunnington at the RST
Margaret Cunnington, Marie Solomon, Emma Dawson and John Cunnington at the RST

At the end of her talk to the Club given at its 897th meeting in November 2015 Joan Foley, UWE Bristol PGCE Secondary English Course Leader, enjoined the Committee to become Shakespeare Mentors in the year of Shakespeare400 celebrations. In her 30 year career working with secondary school students and trainee teachers Joan’s research and practice in Shakespeare pedagogy reveals the significance of experiencing Shakespeare live. For many trainee teachers the thought of teaching Shakespeare is a cause of some anxiety. Worried that they do not ‘know all the answers,’ trainees often shy away from the challenges and delight of sharing Shakespeare in schools. As part of the PGCE English course at UWE trainees have workshop sessions with practitioners trained through the RSC Learning and Performance Network to take the text from page to stage as well as having the opportunity to explore desk-bound but creative approaches in their classrooms using ‘text detective’ questioning,  on-line resources, film versions and current apps.  Crucial to trainees’ confidence in teaching Shakespeare and their development as outstanding practitioners, however, is the chance to see high quality productions so that their own subject knowledge for teaching is enriched. For many the cost is prohibitive.
The Committee took up the challenge offered to them to become Shakespeare Mentors for UWE and we were delighted to be offered tickets for two trainees for the current production of Cymbeline at the RSC. As well as seeing the show trainees were able to visit the Birthplace Trust with Joan and were treated to high tea by Committee members, John and Margaret Cunnington, at the end of the day to share their experiences. We were struck by the trainees’ enthusiasm and delight – and, importantly, their commitment to share this with the children they will teach next year.

Marie and Emma in the Birthplace
Marie and Emma in the Birthplace

Marie Solomon UWE PGCE trainee:
Emma and I were extremely fortunate to have been given the opportunity by the Shakespeare Club to watch the RSC production of Cymbeline. Being taken to Stratford to watch the performance is an experience that I shall never forget. I really enjoyed how the director, Melly Still, incorporated modern aspects into Shakespeare’s play, thus making the show engaging and accessible for a younger audience.

 I would like to thank the committee for making this trip so very special. I am looking forward to taking the students I teach in the future to Stratford, to share my love and passion for both Shakespeare and the theatre.
Emma Dawson UWE PGCE trainee:
I would like to thank the Shakespeare Club for such a truly magnificent day in Stratford-upon-Avon. The day included watching Cymbeline at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, walking around Shakespeare’s birthplace and a lovely walk through the beautiful town. Having spent considerable time during my PGCE year trying to teach Shakespeare well, it was an incredibly special moment to see where such a significant figure in British literature was born. The entire day was fantastic and I felt I learnt a vast amount which I will take back to the English classroom; the day also allowed me to see the learning potential when taking students to Stratford to truly appreciate the wonderfulness of Shakespeare and the influence he has.

Death of ex-president Guy Woolfenden

Members of the Shakespeare Club will be saddened to hear of the death on 15 April 2016 of one of their ex-presidents, Guy Woolfenden. Guy joined the RSC in 1961 and was their Head of Music from 1963 to 1998.  It was after his retirement, in 1998-9, that he became President of the Shakespeare Club, and able to reflect on his career: he composed over 150 scores for RSC productions and had the rare distinction of composing music for all of Shakespeare’s plays, some of them more than once.  Members of the club are all likely to have fond memories of the music Guy wrote to complement plays performed by the RSC.

Towards the end of his life Guy was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and a celebration of his lifetime of music-making was held in his presence, on 24 May 2015 in the Swan Theatre in Stratford, in aid of the Alzheimer’s Society.

Shakespeare Birthday procession 2015

DSC04908sh club 2015As ever the Shakespeare Club was represented at the Shakespeare Birthday procession held in Stratford-upon-Avon on 25 April 2015. Here are photographs of the Committee getting ready to take part, and passing down Henley Street.

DSC04929sh club 2015


Extraordinary meeting to be held 14 April

There will be an Extraordinary General meeting of the Club at 7.45 on 14 April, before the main meeting. There will be only one item of business: a change to the Club rules so that the AGM can be held in September rather than April. Assuming this proposal is accepted we shall also ask the meeting to elect the President for the 2015 season. The committee anticipate this will take only a few minutes before we proceed to the main part of the evening, a performance by Shakespeare Aloud.

February meeting of the Shakespeare Club

The meeting on Tuesday 11 February will be a lecture by Dr Eugene Giddens, on the subject “Amicability in Jonson and Shakespeare”. Dr Giddens is the editor of the Oxford Handbook on Ben Jonson and has edited plays by both Shakespeare and Jonson. With Volpone, perhaps his greatest comedy, being performed by the RSC this summer this is your opportunity to find out more about Shakespeare’s friend and fellow-playwright.

January 2015 meeting of the Shakespeare Club

The next meeting of the Shakespeare Club will be held on Tuesday 13 January. Professor Tiffany Stern, Professor of Early Modern Drama at Oxford University and Fellow in English at University College, Oxford, who is a specialist in  theatre history from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century. Her talk is entitled ‘”O bitter, black and tragical”: Tragic Performance on the Shakespeare Stage’ and will be held as usual at the Shakespeare Institute, Stratford-upon-Avon.   Visitors are welcome to pay on the door (£3, students free).  Doors open at 7.15 pm and the meeting will start at 7.45pm.   Refreshments will be served after the meeting. All are welcome.

Presidential evening 11 November: Jeremy Irons

Jeremy Irons with Club members and guests
Jeremy Irons with Club members and guests

On Tuesday 11 November this year’s President, Jeremy Irons, gave his presidential address.  He had been forced to cancel in October because of the demands of international filming, but became available again just ten days before the meeting, though he arrived in the UK only on Tuesday morning. His unscripted talk, entitled “An actor’s life for me”,  blended reminiscences of his remarkable career with thoughts about the job of acting. It was a fantastic treat for his audience of over 100, and after the talk he joined members and guests for a drink making it one of the Club’s best evenings ever.

October meeting

Nick Fogg

The Club’s meeting on 7 October features Nicholas Fogg. Nick has written books on a number of Stratford and Shakespeare-related subjects including a collection of historic photographs of Stratford, a history of Stratford during the two world wars, a history of the town (recently revised and republished) and a biography of Shakespeare. He is also an experienced speaker, having lectured widely in the UK, USA and Canada. For the club he has chosen to speak about Shakespeare and Politics, giving his lecture the title “Get thee glass eyes” – a view of Shakespeare and Politics.