To those that have read the previous ‘throwback’ posts, and followed me on my journey of recounting my poetry journey – thank you! This will be the final post under this thread, and will bring everything up to the modern day, and where I’m at now. In this final chapter, I’ll be focusing on my life in Stratford-upon-Avon: from reading my poetry on the RSC stage, to studying and working in the hometown of the Bard.
Stratford-upon-Avon is a beautiful town, and to writers like me, who find inspiration in the words of Shakespeare, it is a haven for the imagination. I am lucky enough to have spent time there as a visitor, a volunteer, a student, an employee – even as a poet! The town is filled with artists: as a honeypot site for all things creative, you’ll find performing arts at the Shakespeare family homes, at the various smaller venues and theatres across town, and even on the streets. In the centre of this is the world-renowned Royal Shakespeare Company, in its theatre on the waterfront, which draws in huge crowds from all over the world. Occasionally, this stage welcomes more amateur talent, during an event called Fun Palaces.
Fun Palaces, an initiative launched by theatre director Joan Littlewood in 1961, sees the creation of ‘laboratories of fun’ popping up around the country. Run by and for communities, Fun Palaces strive to bring culture, in all its various forms, to the people. Events are often created on a minimum budget and are free to attend, aiming to be inclusive, hands-on, and fun!
In October 2018, the RSC played host to Fun Palaces, allowing all manner of acts to take to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre stage, and enable everyone from locals to casual passers-by to attend the theatre for free. I signed up to be one of these acts, and read my poems from Bella in the very auditorium I had been to so often as a spectator!
It was an incredible experience. I was on the bill alongside musicians, puppeteers, and other writers, who I had met earlier that day during a free vocal session with the RSC’s vocal coach! It was so much fun to access the RSC’s rehearsal spaces, and go along the backstage routes that bring you right out onto the stage itself.
I actually attended the Fun Palaces event in the short break I had between two lectures, as I studied for my MA at the Shakespeare Institute just a few roads from the theatre. The Institute is another world-renowned venue in Stratford: part of the University of Birmingham (where I did my BA), it hosts a number of top Shakespearean and early modern scholars, and offers MA and PhD programmes to on-site and distance learners. I began a part-time MA there in 2018, and I am currently working on my final dissertation.
The Institute is home to a great community, hosting extra-curricular activities for staff and students that vary from guest seminars and play readings, to football! There is also an in-house theatre company called the Shakespeare Institute Players, of which anyone in the Institute can be a part, helping to put on productions throughout the academic year. They also host a number of other events, and in a 2019 Variety Show, invited staff and students to share their talents, whether it be music, drama, comedy, or poetry.
It was great getting to take to the stage at the Institute, and share my poetry with my peers. As a part-time student living about an hour’s journey out of Stratford-upon-Avon, I don’t feel I have been as involved in extra-curricular activities as I would have liked. Many of my fellow students did not know I was a poet, so it was great to show them that side of myself.
My MA at the Shakespeare Institute will shortly be coming to an end, but due to the current crisis, I am writing my dissertation remotely and may be submitting it virtually too. I did not know, the last time I sat in the Institute, that it may be my last time there – things escalated so quickly. But it was not my last time in Stratford-upon-Avon: though I am furloughed for now, I will return to work at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust when it reopens.
In my role there, I am a Creative Programme Coordinator, and part of that means I help organise the Stratford Poetry Festival. This, of course, means working behind the scenes and allowing other poets to take to the stage. But until I have new poetry to share, that is just fine by me.