This morning we were very excited to be invited to the Park Avenue Armory for a behind-the-scenes tour of The Royal Shakespeare Company’s spectacular specially constructed theater and sprawling, very cool backstage area. The RSC is in residence at the Armory this summer as a part of the Lincoln Center Festival, performing its repertory of five Shakespeare plays for New York audiences over a period of six weeks.
At the Armory we were joined by Elise Broach, author of today’s book Shakespeare’s Secret, as well as Jeremy Adams, a producer with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Mr. Adams explained that over the course of about nineteen days, an exact replica of the RSC’s theater in Stratford-upon-Avon was unpacked and reconstructed in the Armory’s vast drill hall. In addition to transporting an entire theater overseas, the Royal Shakespeare Company brought around 140 people with them to New York, including actors, producers, stage managers, directors, designers, and musicians.
We learned that the RSC’s theater isn’t exactly like the theaters of Shakespeare’s day — modern additions include electric lights, upholstered seats, and a roof — but that the configuration of the seats is meant to recreate the feeling of an Elizabethan theater and increase the audience’s engagement with what’s happening on stage. As Elise pointed out, audience participation (in the form of shouting and throwing rotten vegetables) was an important feature of theater-going in Shakespeare’s time.
We had a lot of questions about the RSC’s theater and, when our conversation inevitably turned to stage blood, we were very interested to hear Mr. Adams describe it as a sweet, sticky syrup which actually tastes “quite nice.”
We were then taken by Pat Kirby, assistant production coordinator for the Lincoln Center Festival, on a backstage tour of the theater. She told us the RSC’s visit to New York took around four years to plan and execute. Walking through the dressing rooms and seeing the actors’ props and costumes, we began to get a sense of what life is like for members of the RSC in New York.
We even got to see the “wet room,” where actors covered in stage blood can clean themselves off.
After our great visit to the Armory, we all headed to Sheep’s Meadow in Central Park to do a writing exercise with Elise. Our task was to describe a character’s bedroom in a way that would give clues about their personality. Elise discussed with us the importance of setting in fiction and how it can affect the plot.
Today’s weather was truly wonderful and we were looking forward to enjoying our lunches when we witnessed a somewhat gruesome act of nature — very near where we were sitting, a hawk made a meal of a Central Park pigeon, causing some of us to loose our appetites.
Others, however, considered the event “awesome” and were inspired to make a few works of art.
Putting the hawk incident behind us, we made our way back to Symphony Space to hear more from Elise about how her first novel, Shakespeare’s Secret, came to be. We discussed what makes a good mystery, where authors get their inspiration, and why some scholars suspect that the plays we attribute to William Shakespeare may have in fact been written by a man named Edward de Vere. Finally, Elise reminded us not to get discouraged when writing and to always be open to criticism. While trying to get Shakespeare’s Secret published, Elise said that she often kept these words in mind: “If everything you try works, you’re not trying hard enough.”
For our last hour, we couldn’t resist heading back outside to enjoy the weather and play a few games in Riverside Park.
We wrapped up the day with a dramatic reading onstage of a scene from Much Ado About Nothing which we’re looking forward to continuing tomorrow.
See you then!