Theatres and Activities

"All the world’s a stage, / And all the men and women merely players"
         – As You Like It (2.7.139–140)



Currently, the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) performs in the two main theatres in Stratford-upon-Avon, namely in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre (RST) and the Swan Theatre, which share the backstage area. These two different playhouses allow the RSC to put a wide range of plays on stage.

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre

The RST is the largest of all the theatres used by the RSC. The present building of the RST originated in the one opened as the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in 1879, in which festival performances were given for short periods each year. It burned down in 1926, but was reopened in 1932. The playhouse finally acquired its name – Royal Shakespeare Theatre – in 1961. It is designed for approximately 1450 people. The stage has recently been extended well into the auditorium in order to reduce the extent to which the proscenium arch separates the actors and actresses from the audience.

The Swan Theatre

The Swan Theatre, designed to reflect a Jacobean style theatre, is an impressively atmospheric galleried playhouse that comprises around 470 spectators. It was built in 1986 in the shell of the former Shakespeare Memorial Theatre. The initial purpose of the Swan Theatre was to present infrequently produced plays by Renaissance and Restoration playwrights, but in recent years, the programme has been broadened to also include more recent classics and new writing. The seats are situated around the stage in the shape of a horseshoe. Hence, the audience is involved with the events on stage to a considerable extent, physically being very close to the cast. The RSC often incorporates the offstage area in their performances so that the boundaries between cast and audience begin to collapse.

The Courtyard Theatre

A third theatre, the Courtyard Theatre, was built on the site of The Other Place (TOP), the RSC's venue for new and experimental theatre work. The Other Place was originally a storage space called Tin Hut that was later used as additional rehearsal space by the Royal Shakespeare Company, and converted to be used as a theatre in 1974. It held a very intimate studio theatre space that was quite the opposite of the proscenium arch of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. The original shed of the Other Place was replaced by a brick-building in 1990. Even though the new theatre was more advanced in terms of technical facilities than the original shed, it lacked the intimacy of the former studio theatre. The new TOP building was closed and used as a foyer for the temporary 1000-seat Courtyard Theatre that opened in July 2006 with Michael Boyd’s Henry VI trilogy as part of the "Complete Works of Shakespeare Festival." This venue allowed the company to continue performing in Stratford-upon-Avon during the transformation of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. The Courtyard Theatre’s stage configuration served as a prototype for the redeveloped Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Thus, in 2007, when work on transforming the Royal Shakespeare Theatre began, the Courtyard Theatre became the RSC’s main theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. When the development of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre was complete at the end of January 2011, the Courtyard closed, but then provided additional space during the World Shakespeare Festival (part of the Cultural Olympiad 2012). Options to reinstate The Other Place on the site of the Courtyard are currently being developed.

Workshops and Discussions

Actors on Stage

Workshops and discussions with RCS staff such as voice trainers, actors, and directors are further highlights of the week. They shed light on what acting and staging a play may include and how hard and strenuous but also stimulating the actors’ work may be. You will get an idea of how they train their voices, of their techniques of preparing their parts, and of how they find and incorporate their characters.

During the voice class as well as during the practical acting session, you will work on specific passages from the current plays. For once, the roles are changed and you are ‘the cast.’ Workshops and discussions are certainly the most creative and active part of the course and complement your academic perspective on Shakespeare by practical, physical, and emotional drama experience. You will gain an excitingly new perspective on Shakespeare’s plays: the literary text on a page, which we are used to read quietly for ourselves, is complemented and completed by the spoken and enacted words on stage. The discussions with the RSC members are equally informative and entertaining. Getting to know actors and actresses in person is certainly a special experience. Besides, Stratford-upon-Avon being such a small place, it is very likely that you meet them again in town or in a pub.