Shakespeare's Birthday Celebrations weekend

Stratford-upon-Avon will be full of festive fun and entertainment for the town’s annual Birthday Celebrations in honour of its most famous son, William Shakespeare, on Saturday 20 and Sunday 21 April.

27 March 2013

Stratford’s tradition of the Birthday Celebration dates back more than 100 years and brings together residents and visitors with people from the worlds of diplomacy, theatre, literature and academia in a vibrant mix of pageantry and performance.

Festivities for the 449th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth will commence with the grand Birthday Procession, the ceremonial showpiece led by the Band of the Corps of the Royal Engineers.  Starting from the Town Hall at 10.35, the parade follows a circular route through the town’s main thoroughfares to the head of Bridge Street for the unfurling of the flags ceremony.  Headed by the Royal Engineers and led by pupils and staff from King Edward VI School (which William Shakespeare attended), the main procession then continues along the historic spine of Stratford to lay flowers on Shakespeare’s grave at Holy Trinity Church.  The Community and People’s Parade will follow the main procession to the church and on to the Bancroft Gardens on the bank of the River Avon.  Spectators are welcome to join the throng of costumed players, musicians and creative groups.

Free street entertainment and special Birthday-themed activities will be on offer at venues and locations across the picturesque town throughout the afternoon.  Professional troupes and community groups will be showcasing their talents in dance, music, and of course, in the home town of the world’s most famous playwright, theatre.

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust will be holding open auditions to find a performer with the ‘S-Factor’ to be their next face of Shakespeare.  Head to Shakespeare’s Birthplace in Henley Street at 2-3pm to put your talent to the test or simply watch as contenders perform any Shakespeare scene or poem in front of the Trust’s own Cowell/Cole/Walsh panel.

‘Shakespeare Aloud’, the resident acting troupe at Shakespeare’s Birthplace, is inviting all comers to have a go at their own rendition of the balcony scene from Romeo & Juliet, and have it filmed for the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust digital media channels.

All five of the Shakespeare Houses & Gardens will have family friendly activities, and birthday cakes.  Hall’s Croft will host a toddler’s party in the beautiful walled garden, with free entry for families with children under five between 12.45 and 2.45pm.  Nash’s House & New Place, the site of Shakespeare’s final home will run a children’s writing competition for the best profile of a Shakespeare character.  At Mary Arden’s Farm in Wilmcote there will be Tudor games, music and dancing, while at Anne Hathaway’s Cottage visitors can add their own paper dove to an installation celebrating the new Dovecote (template on website).

The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) will offer a range of free activities for the whole family in and around its theatres between 11.30am – 4.30pm on Saturday 20 April.  Outside the theatres there will a live music stage, as well as Shakespeare themed games to play.   Visitors will be able to find out more about how a play is created by taking part in workshops led by RSC practitioners, covering areas such as stage fighting, voice and movement.  There will also be storytelling sessions, and the opportunity to see how fake scars and bruises are created by the RSC Wigs and Make-Up team, or to try on costumes in a special dressing up area.  

The weekend will also see the opening of Into the Wild, a free RSC Costume Collection exhibition exploring how costume designers and makers have responded to themes of nature in Shakespeare’s work.  Located in the RSC’s PACCAR Room, this is an exclusive chance to see rarely displayed costumes, and includes many worn by some of the RSC’s most famous actors, including Dame Peggy Ashcroft, Sir Ian McKellen, Juliet Stevenson and David Tennant. The exhibition is part of the RSC’s larger celebration of costume, In Stitches, taking place throughout its theatres in Stratford-upon-Avon from Spring 2013.

Hotels, restaurants and pubs throughout the town will be offering a variety of special Birthday Celebration menus to suit every taste and pocket.

As a finale to Saturday’s celebrations, the Corps of Royal Engineers will perform Beating Retreat at 5pm in Henley Street.  One of the best marching brass bands in the world, the Band regularly plays at State, Royal and military occasions.  The Band also provides medical support in combat zones.

The Pragnell Prize for outstanding achievement in extending the enjoyment and understanding of Shakespeare will be presented this year at a special reception hosted by King Edward VI School and held in the Guildhall where Shakespeare was educated. The speeches and presentation of the Pragnell Prize will, for the first time, be broadcast to a global audience via a live webcast, and everyone in Stratford with an internet connection will be able to see it. Invited guests for this important annual ceremony will represent local and national organisations and will also include a number of international guests. 

Speaking on behalf of the partner organisations responsible for the Birthday Celebrations, Sarah Summers, Town Clerk, Stratford-upon-Avon Town Council said, “We are already starting to plan for the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth next year, and the 400th anniversary of his death in 2016.  We anticipate that these significant anniversaries will attract many more people to the town than usual.  Holding the Pragnell Prize Reception rather than continue with the Birthday Luncheon, which would require substantial financial subsidy, means we can focus resources instead on events and attractions that everyone will be able to enjoy.  It will also give our guests more opportunity to mingle informally and to enjoy the entertainment around town in the afternoon.”

On Sunday 21 April, the Shakespeare Service at Holy Trinity Church (11.00am-12.15pm) includes music and verse from Shakespeare’s plays, performed by members of the RSC.  The Shakespeare Sermon will be given by Rt Rev John Stroyan, Bishop of Warwick.  There will be a Civic Parade from the Town Hall to Holy Trinity Church led by the Coventry Drum Corp at 10.35am.

The Shakespeare Birthday Celebrations are organised as a collaborative venture by six partner organisations: Stratford-upon-Avon Town Council, Stratford-upon-Avon Town Trust, Stratford-on-Avon District Council, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, the Royal Shakespeare Company and King Edward VI School.

Updates about plans for the Shakespeare Birthday Celebrations 2013 Festival Weekend will be posted on the website

Note to editors:

The Pragnell Prize, initiated and sponsored by the Stratford-based jewellers George Pragnell Limited, is awarded annually "for outstanding achievement in extending the appreciation and enjoyment of the works of William Shakespeare or in the general advancement of Shakespearian knowledge and understanding".