YORK Shakespeare Project has a not-so-secret new location for its latest sonnet adventures, the secret garden of the Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre, in Blossom Street, York.
After several years of Sonnet Walks through the city streets and public gardens and the socially distanced Sit-down Sonnets at Holy Trinity churchyard, in Goodramgate, last September, here come Sonnets At the Bar 2021, directed by Emilie Knight and produced by Maurice Crichton, from July 30 to August 7.
“Emilie Knight and I have struck up a good working relationship at the Bar Convent with James Foster, the chief operations officer,” says Maurice. “They have a lovely ‘secret’ garden with plenty of room and a surprisingly quiet, voice-friendly acoustic for a space so close to one of the busiest road junctions in the city.”
Looking forward to mounting this summer’s spree of Shakespeare sonnets, Maurice enthuses: “York Shakespeare Project wants to involve people in a close engagement with Shakespeare’s writing, and as Jonathan Bate says in every Royal Shakespeare Company edition of the plays: ‘The best way to understand a Shakespeare play is to see it or ideally to participate in it’.
“Emilie is setting up auditions ‘open to all’ and we want to get the word out as widely as possible to try to involve some new faces in this format.”
Those auditions will be held at the Bar Convent onJune 4 from 5pm and June 5 from 10am. Anyone wanting to arrange an audition time should contact Emilie at email@example.com, putting ‘Sonnets’ in the heading and indicating a preference of day and time.
“I’ll provide details of everything you need to prepare when confirming your audition time,” says Emilie, who performed in last year’s Sit-down Sonnets in role of Covid Nurse at Holy Trinity Church.
Outlining the format of this summer’s performances, she explains: “We’ll be bringing our audience into the secret garden of the Bar Convent to witness the comings and goings of the ordinary people of York as they pursue their hobbies and interests at a community venue.
“The characters cover a range of age and gender and a couple also require some musical ability (instrument or vocal). We welcome all levels of experience, as commitment, enthusiasm and a certain amount of flexibility will determine the success of this production. And, we want you to have fun!”
Rehearsals will be held outdoors, initially in West Bank Park, Holgate, and then at the Bar Convent.
The eight evening performances from July 30 to August 7 – no show on Monday, August 2 – will be complemented by late-afternoon matinees on both Saturdays. “We’re going to include a drink in the ticket price and this will be provided by the heritage centre’s café,” says Maurice.
YORK Shakespeare Project has appointed Emilie Knight to direct the 2021 Sonnet Walks in a plan to resume open-air theatre in York as soon as conditions allow.
Anticipating the granting of Government permission for outdoor events, but awaiting confirmation on what level of social distancing will be required, YSP is delighted to make the appointment.
“We want to hit the ground running just as soon as we’re permitted to,” says York Shakespeare Project (YSP) committee member Tony Froud.
YSP will make an announcement on performance dates and the audition process for Emilie’s production later in the spring.
Emilie is well acquainted with the Sonnet Walks, having appeared in three productions. First performing as a Sting-obsessed sonneteer in 2018 an d as Mother of the Bride and guide the following year, she found playing Covid Nurse in last year’s Sit-down Sonnets at Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate, was “one of the most affecting roles I’ve ever played”.
York resident Emilie has made regular appearances with the Knaresborough Players and was involved in the York community projects Blood + Chocolate on the city streets in 2013 and Everything Is Possible: The York Suffragettes at York Theatre Royal in 2017.
Interested in all aspects of theatre, not least costume and tech, Emilie says it was only a matter of time before she would turn her attention to directing: “This is a new adventure for me and I’m thrilled to have been chosen to direct this year’s Sonnets production.
“I’m very grateful to the YSP committee for entrusting me with this important feature of the canon. I look forward to the challenge and hard work involved as I know it will be hugely rewarding.
“I was made so welcome when I joined YSP, have learnt so much and have had so much fun. I want others to share that experience too.”
The Sonnet Walks were first performed by YSP in 2014, and since their revival in 2017 they have become an annual event. Until 2020, they took the form of a walk around the streets and snickelways of York, allowing audience members to meet a series of colourful local characters, each with a lively tale to tell and a Shakespearean sonnet to recite.
Last September, Covid-safe restrictions saw the format adapted to the Sit-Down Sonnets, with audience and cast members all socially distanced in the atmospheric setting of the Holy Trinity churchyard.
YSP is confident York audiences are crying out for the resumption of live theatre. “With theatres closed since March, last September’s Sit-Down Sonnets were hugely welcomed by actors and audience members alike,” says Tony Froud.
“We’re hoping for the same response for live performance this year. By appointing Emilie now, we’re making sure that it will happen immediately guidance permits.”
Meanwhile, YSP is “hoping to revive” its production of Macbeth, postponed by Lockdown 1 ten days short of its first night in March 2020. Watch this space for any updates.
YORK Shakespeare Project is issuing a call-out for a director for this year’s outdoor sonnet performances.
“We would like to hear from people interested in directing Sonnet Walks/Sit-down Sonnets 2021, our annual open-air production incorporating selections from Shakespeare’s sonnets in a devised framework,” says YSP’s Tony Froud.
“Last September, our Sit-down Sonnets, staged by director Mick Taylor at a socially distanced Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate, were welcomed by performers and audiences alike. Now, in these continuing uncertain times, we would like to mount a new production of the sonnets.”
When and where that can happen remains to be seen, says Tony. “No dates have been set but we expect this to be later in the summer, and we want to appoint someone with a strong idea for this year’s production so that we can begin work on making it happen.”
The director’s role is not a professional appointment. If you are interested, please contact Tony Froud at firstname.lastname@example.org to receive more details.
YORK’S purveyors of Shakespeare’s Sonnet Walks are staging a sit-down, but not as an act of protest.
Instead, the mood will be celebratory as York Shakespeare Project present a special production of Shakespeare’s sonnets from Friday, allowing audiences to enjoy live theatre outdoors.
YSP’s Sit-down Sonnets can be seen at the Holy Trinity churchyard, in Goodramgate, where the 45-minute production will feature Shakespearean characters responding to the pandemic, each sharing a famous Shakespeare sonnet as part of their monologue.
“The conceit this time is that the sonneteers are well-known Shakespeare characters in the present day, coping as best they can with lockdown,” says producer Maurice Crichton. “In what is now time-honoured fashion, each has a sonnet to tee up, the pairing of character and sonnet hopefully opening up some unknown sonnets in an accessible way and giving some well-known ones a new angle.
“Thinking of some of the characters I’ve played, I wondered how might they each be placed? Ulysses is no longer troubled that Achilles won’t come out of his tent because all the Greeks are stuck under canvas waiting for the latest R number estimates.
“Claudius is annoyed he’s had to postpone his marriage to Gertrude but is relieved there are no trains home from Wittenburg for Hamlet to catch; Feste can’t sing in public, so he’s planning an online concert from a willow cabin he’s constructing at Olivia’s gate…It’s a fun game to play and not just with Shakespeare.”
Conceived and directed by Mick Taylor and produced by Crichton, the sonnets show will be performed by Frank Brogan; Nigel Evans; Emily Hansen; Sue Harris; Margaret Hillier; Judith Ireland; Emilie Knight; Mick Liversidge; Phyllis Carson-Smith; Di Starr; Mick Taylor himself and Helen Wilson, “sharpening up her Miss Jean Brodie act”.
As to who they will play, Maurice teases: “We are being coy about which Shakespeare characters you will see…but Mick has had some fun pulling a script together.”
For the past few years, the York community theatre company has produced Sonnet Walks, a guided walk around York where the audience meets a range of connected characters with a story to tell and a Shakespearean sonnet to share.
Now comes the sit-down variation, under Taylor’s direction. “Like everyone involved with theatre, we’ve missed being able to enjoy and take part in live performance,” he says. “Having staged the Sonnet Walks previously, we knew that, as a format, it could be adapted in a way that would allow us to perform to a seated audience outdoors. And Holy Trinity is a beautiful place to do it: a leafy sanctuary in the centre of the city.”
Explaining the 2020 format, Mick says: “In these Sit-down Sonnets, we’ve taken some of Shakespeare’s most memorable characters and written new monologues for them as they find themselves in the middle of this pandemic.
“How might things have turned out for them if they’d been stuck in lockdown? How can Brutus get near to Caesar to put his knife in when all the senate meetings are on Zoom? Where can Romeo get his fateful poison if the apothecary’s on furlough? And how much hand sanitiser will Lady Macbeth get through? They’ll share their thoughts on a world of lockdowns, masks and social distancing, along with a sonnet that reflects their feelings.”
Making an historical link, Mick points out: “Shakespeare himself was no stranger to the impact a pandemic can have on theatre. Between 1603 and 1613, the theatres were closed for a total of six and a half years. Thankfully, we can return in performances like this a little sooner!”
York Shakespeare Project were just over a week away from the opening night for their spring production of Macbeth when lockdown began in late-March, stalling the 20-year mission to produce all of Shakespeare’s known plays by 2021 on the home straight, when only two big hitters, Macbeth and The Tempest, were left to perform.
Committee member Tony Froud says: “We were obviously very disappointed to have to postpone Macbeth and, like other companies, we are waiting to see how and when indoor live performance can safely return before deciding when we can prepare to stage the plays again.
“That’s why we’re so pleased to be able to perform Shakespeare in front of an audience in this way. Mick and Maurice have done a tremendous job in a short amount of time to prepare a production that audiences can enjoy safely and that brings the beauty of the sonnets to life in new ways.
“We hope that people will be able to join us for what should be a fun and unique performance, and a long-overdue chance to watch live theatre.”
YSP pass on their thanks to the Churches Conservation Trust and the volunteers at Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate, for accommodating Sit-Down Sonnets this summer.
“We looked at Dean’s Park and the Museum Gardens but in both cases that would have involved opening late specially for us,” says Maurice. “Last year, Ed van der Molen at Holy Trinity Church was very responsive to our idea of bringing our Sonnet Walks through the churchyard and this year even more so: he could not have been more welcoming.
“The review in The Press last year said: ‘What can be more lovely than a marriage of Shakespeare’s golden verse and York’s heritage’. Holy Trinity is a jewel in York’s heritage and its churchyard a haven in the city centre. It was our first choice for trying out this new format.”
The Covid-secure Sit-down Sonnets will be presented from September 4 to 12 (except September 7) at 5.45pm and 7pm nightly, bolstered each Saturday by a 4.15pm matinee.
“The audience capacity is ten social bubbles or 20 souls, whichever maximum we reach first,” says Maurice. “We don’t really know how it will feel to have a static show rather than a walk, but the sonnets will come thicker and faster and it will be colder, so dress warmly.
“There are five park benches in the churchyard, which we will be using, so a cushion would be a useful thing to bring, as would a rug and a camp chair. Maybe a flask and a packet of biscuits too.
“We’re delighted to see that the latest weather forecast for this week’s opening performances is: Friday, 16C, 5% chance of rain, 11mph breeze; Saturday, 15C, 6% chance of rain, 9mph breeze.”
Tickets are available at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk, priced at £7 for adults, £4 for 14-17 year olds, and two under-14s may accompany each adult for free. To find out more about dates, tickets and the production, go to: yorkshakespeareproject.org.