Coventry & Warwickshire

Flat-pack RSC stage set up in US for summer season

Image caption The theatre will seat 900 people, the RSC says

What is the connection between a giant flat-pack kit and a former army headquarters in the centre of New York? The answer is Shakespeare.

My journey started at the Royal Shakespeare Company's (RSC) workshop in Stratford-upon-Avon and was to end on Park Avenue in New York.

Arts organisations are paying for the RSC to build, transport and rebuild a flat-pack theatre in the centre of New York for a six-week summer season.

The theatre will be housed inside the Park Avenue Armory, an enormous fortress-like structure, occupying a massive chunk of land on one of the city's prime locations.

It was built in the 19th Century for the New York equivalent of the UK's Territorial Army and was also used by the US military after 9/11.

Now it enables artists "to create, and the public to experience, unconventional work that could not otherwise be mounted in traditional performance halls and museums".

'Excellent exposure'

Reminiscent of the bolt-on kits I played with as a child, a team of Warwickshire welders have been creating a metal web structure that will form the 900-seat replica of the Courtyard Theatre.

The drill hall where the replica will be built is huge.

Rebecca Robertson, president of Park Avenue Armory, said it will be a great environment to watch a Shakespearean performance.

Image caption Welders have been working hard putting the theatre together

"You'll have this sense that you're coming into this space then you're coming into this other world and that's the sort of beauty of it," she said.

"And then you'll walk into this drill hall and there will be this object sitting in the middle, but a rather large object but we're in a rather large space.

"The scale will be very interesting and then you will go into this Shakespearean theatre."

This experimental theatre experience through July and August is not just about a nice night of Shakespeare.

The five performances, including As You Like and King Lear, are co-presented by the Lincoln Center Festival and ticket sales already are coming in from all over the world.

All excellent exposure for the RSC, Shakespeare and Stratford-upon-Avon.

American tourists already contribute 40% to the RSC's annual fundraising budget and they are the second largest group of visitors to the Bard's former home and other related properties, Shakespeare Birthplace Trust figures show.

Image caption The theatre will be housed inside the Wade Thompson drill hall

One very enthusiastic American told me that in the 1850s there were fatalities between rival Shakespearean groups and their interpretation of his works.

What has been acknowledged by Midlands businesses, is that our culture and heritage is valuable to tourists and in turn boosts our economy.

North American tourists already contribute £2bn a year to the British economy and with the Midlands in the top five visitor destinations in the country it does not take a mathematician to work out that that spend is valuable on our doorstep.

It would seem the so-called "special relationship" between the US and UK, a phrase first used more than 60 years ago by Winston Churchill, is not just used by politicians but a tangible way of supporting our economy.

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