New Exhibition at Shakespeare's Birthplace
Real Studios shines a contemporary light on our endless fascination with Shakespeare
20 February 2014
Real Studios brings a brilliant new contemporary perspective on Shakespeare’s enduring place in our world when the new introductory visitor experience opens at Shakespeare’s Birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon next month (March 2014). The opening of the ‘Famous Beyond Words’ exhibition marks the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, and is expected to attract 1.2m visitors over the next three years leading up to the 400th anniversary of his death in 2016.
Shakespeare’s enduring influence – the powerful legacy of his words across the world and through the centuries - was the inspiration behind Real Studios’ scheme for Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, won at competitive tender; the charity cares for the five Shakespeare family homes – the world’s most important Shakespeare heritage sites. Says Real Studios co-director Yvonne Golds: ‘We wanted to show how he’s still all around us, whether we recognise it or not, in music and plays and the phrases that we use every day. We wanted to highlight the power of those words in performance, then bring Stratford into the picture through revealing Shakespeare, the man.’
‘Famous Beyond Words’ is an engaging, contemporary and accessible exploration of the extraordinary story of William Shakespeare, the boy from Stratford-upon-Avon who became the world’s most celebrated playwright. It reveals how Shakespeare’s writings have continued to fascinate and entertain people from all walks of life and all parts of the globe over four centuries, and places his narrative firmly within the context of the town where he was born and raised, married, had children and where he lived when he was at the height of his powers.
The exhibition is located at the entrance to the house and gardens where Shakespeare was born and grew up. Its aim is to introduce visitors to the key narratives before they tour Shakespeare’s birthplace itself. Visitors are greeted with a dozen different portraits, in a variety of media, hung on walls and bookcases. Mostly produced in the last 50 years, they reveal the many faces of Shakespeare and our continuing fascination with him as a literary and cultural giant.
Visitors next encounter a striking wall of text, a tapestry of the many phrases and words coined from Shakespeare’s dramas that have found their way into everyday speech. On the facing wall three showcases are set within a similar ‘wall’ of Shakespearian words and what appear to be ancient bound volumes of Shakespearian plays. The showcases draw on the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s extraordinary archive collection, with the emphasis on objects from the 20th and 21st century. These are counterpointed by several montages of photos sent in by the general public, depicting Shakespeare-related shop names, places, roads, venues, cultural events – demonstrating Shakespeare’s enduring presence around us physically.
At the centre of the exhibition is a 10m-diameter drum space – a dramatic but also logistical device which cleverly separates off those seeking the fast track experience (who exit at one side) from visitors wishing to enjoy the more immersive version. This drum is a striking architectural feature, a translucent acrylic structure, criss-crossed with red ‘beams’ which hint at the Tudor architecture of the original Globe. This central drum will show a series of bespoke films made by 59 Productions – Real Studios’ partners in last year’s blockbuster David Bowie Is show at the Victoria & Albert Museum. Once inside the drum, visitors are surrounded by compelling A/V footage featuring clips taken from contemporary theatre performances, music, films and dance, and grouped according to dramatic themes (such as love, war and beasts) which highlight Shakespeare’s continuing relevance across cultural, gender and demographic divides.
This multi-functional drum space can also be used as an intimate area for functions and live performance. It contrasts visually with the calm neutrality of the surrounding scheme, with its oak finishes and shades of white and grey, which is designed to maximize the impact of the objects and displays themselves.
As visitors leave this section, they encounter a showcase displaying one of the three original script folios in the Trust’s collection. Compiled by the writer’s friends and associates - who recognized the outstanding qualities of Shakespeare’s works - these folios ensured that the depth, scope and brilliance of his output has been preserved and fully appreciated.
The final section then brings the visitor into Shakespeare’s world, with objects and narratives built around his family and his personal mementos, and documents the life he and his family lived in Stratford. The importance of Stratford as a place of pilgrimage is also revealed in the display of two original visitor’s books, begun when the Trust was founded in 1847, with one bearing the signature of Thomas Hardy and another of Theodore Roosevelt. Adjacent to these exhibits is a family tree and a reverse time-line, starting with the publications of the folio and working along to his birth – so that the end of the exhibition dovetails neatly with the start of the tour of his actual birthplace.
The visitor experience is entertaining, informative and executed with a ‘light touch’: it is free flowing, so that visitors can move between – and revisit – exhibits.
Real Studios has masterminded the project on a design and build basis, also transforming the entrance, ticketing desk, front end signage and banners so that the same ‘contemporary with a classic touch’ sensibility unites all elements. Says Golds: ‘We have reorganized the story so that it is site appropriate, rather than a generic Shakespeare experience, and we have made it very accessible for international audiences.’ Real Studios has also steered the project through a rapid gestation – six months from approval to finished construction. The Bard, who is reputed to have responded best to tight deadlines, would have approved.
Delia Garratt, head of collections and interpretations at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust comments: ‘For many people, a visit to Shakespeare’s birthplace is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and it is important that we provide an excellent welcome which sets the context and tone for their visit. What Real Studios has achieved for us here is to create a freshness and relevance to the subject that will leave people in no doubt as to why Shakespeare is still so important to us today.’
NOTES TO EDITORS:
Real Studios was founded in 1998 with a unique design philosophy: to combine the interior and exhibition design skills of its founders - Yvonne Golds and Alistair McCaw – in the creation of spaces that are strong on narrative clarity, sensitive to site and content, and which feature the most exciting and appropriate contemporary, multi-format presentations.
Their strengths as designers, collaborators and content masterplanners were amply demonstrated in 2013, not least with the huge success of the V&A’s ‘David Bowie is’ exhibition – jointly designed by Real Studios and 59 Productions. They also completed a substantial £2m reinterpretation scheme for the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, and designed a luxurious new, eco-friendly safari camp in Kenya, Mahali Mzuri, for Virgin Limited Editions.
From launch in 1998, Real Studios has sought to cover all key disciplines in-house to provide a turnkey service to clients and ensure far greater control over the finished project. In the last fifteen years the team has designed more than forty exhibitions, including the Imperial War Museum North, the award-winning ‘Airspace’ exhibition at Duxford, and two permanent exhibitions for the Natural History Museum (‘Images of Nature’ and ‘The Vault’), as well as many other permanent and temporary exhibitions. Its acclaimed interiors schemes include substantial refurbishments in London and Morocco for key Virgin Limited Edition properties, plus London’s Cumberland Hotel and Glasgow’s aspirational Alea nightclub and casino.
Real Studios’ work is typified by innovative content presentation, sophisticated and creative design solutions, and a knack for delivering maximum impact within fixed budgets and time frames.
The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust is the independent charity that cares for the world’s greatest Shakespeare heritage sites in Stratford-upon-Avon, and promotes the enjoyment and understanding of Shakespeare’s works, life and times all over the world. The charity runs formal and informal educational programmes for people of all ages. It holds the world’s largest Shakespeare-related museum and archives open free to the public, a collection which is designated as being of international importance. The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust receives no regulardirect government funding or public subsidy; it depends on income generated through the support of visitors, donors, volunteers and Friends.