Love the Royal Shakespeare Company?
PUBLISHED: 17:09 20 March 2014 | UPDATED: 17:43 20 March 2014
The Royal Shakespeare Theatre remember'd such wealth brings! Jessica Smallwood fondly recollects her early experiences working at The Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon
Have you visited the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon recently? You may well be a frequent patron, but on the other hand, it could just be about time you popped in again and said ‘hello’.
I have very happy memories of selling many a programme as an usherette (almost twenty years ago!) but recent years have seen a decline in my visits to the theatres. However, I have made a promise to myself that I will visit more often and introduce my young daughters to the delights of the RSC and all it has to offer.
The RST re-opened in November 2010 following a three-year transformation project and it is well worth a visit. The Grade II listed building has often been described as the centre of the ‘Shakespearian universe’ and I can’t help but agree. Where else could one find such an elaborate range of drama, ancient and modern, classic and contemporary? After all, the finest directors and actors work on great plays here, in some of the finest theatres in the world - The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, The Swan Theatre and The Courtyard Theatre.
As a schoolgirl in the 1990s, the RST was an exciting part of my life and I was very lucky to be a member of the Front of House team. Such a job fitted in perfectly with studying for my A Levels and, later on, with my teaching degree. My previous jobs had included grating eggs at Elizabeth the Chef, a checkout girl at Safeway and cleaning rooms at The Arden Hotel, so you can imagine my excitement when I was offered the job with the RSC! Being an ‘usherette’ (a term of which I was not particularly fond) appeared to attract rather a lot of ‘street- cred’ amongst by peers and was not to be sniffed at. It paid well, I worked with a fantastic team of people and I was able to enjoy every play that was performed, time and time again.
Some of my happiest memories were spent working at The Other Place, an intimate studio theatre space on Southern Lane. It has since been transformed into a foyer for the RSC’s Courtyard Theatre. Back in the 1990s I remember it being a hub of activity, excitement and a venue with a buzz. The productions were small-scale and often unusual. Actors would sometimes rush on stage through the theatre’s main entrance and interact with the audience. I remember being asked to hand out sprigs of lavender to curious theatre-goers before each performance of ‘The Phoenician Women’ by Euripides (1995). The audience were captivated from the very beginning, as was so often the case at ‘TOP’, as it became known.
The TOP Green Room was where I often found myself in between auditorium ‘shifts’, selling ice creams and helping with door cues. This is also where I developed a crush on a very young (not to mention handsome) David Tennant. A crush which, nineteen years later, I just cannot seem to shake! I often bumped into Joseph Fiennes that season too but he just didn’t have the same ‘wow’ factor, not to me anyway.
The Royal Shakespeare and Swan Theatres are attractions not to be missed. World class performances, exhibitions, tours, workshops and events. It was only last week that I visited ‘The Half’ in the Ferguson Room in the Swan, a photography exhibition by Simon Annand. It is an actor’s countdown to walking on stage and facing an audience, and Annand’s photographs capture this final half an hour of excitement and intensity before the show begins. It really is a fascinating exhibition; it’s our very own invitation backstage, to see the secret world of the dressing room. The fact that I have returned three times (to see David Tennant in his dressing room of course!) says it all. I cannot recommend it enough. The exhibition is free of charge and is open every day from 10am until the building closes.
My two young daughters have had their first experiences of the theatres recently. A performance of Wendy and Peter Pan delighted my eldest, as did a half term Story Garden workshop. The toddler, on the other hand, prefers to devour the chocolate brownies from the Riverside Café and to adorn herself in the dressing-up costumes available. I have yet to introduce them to David Tennant... but surely that can wait!
This article is by Jessica Smallwood.
For more about the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, visit: www.rsc.org.uk