When British novelist David Edgar came to the University with the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2010 to work on his play “Written on the Heart,” he had never before allowed audiences to see or hear his work before it was complete.
But that year Edgar showed a draft of the play to audiences at the University, listened to their feedback and refined the play — a feature of the partnership between the University and the RSC that Ralph Williams, a professor emeritus of English, said does not happen elsewhere in the world.
“This is a relationship which is in some features unique,” Williams said. “There is, for example, no other place that I know of which does this work with the Royal Shakespeare process that does this work at this stage in the development of plays.”
The partnership, which started after the RSC first performed plays at the University in 2001, will continue on Saturday when the RSC returns to campus for its sixth visit. Instead of performing shows at the University, the organization is focusing on creatively developing two plays for its upcoming fall season, titled “A World Elsewhere,” at its home in Stratford-upon-Avon, England. The group will also host symposiums and workshops on campus through March 20.
Williams, who has been key in forming the relationship between the RSC and the University over the last decade, said this year’s visit will be more involved than the past.
In 2010, the RSC brought directors, writers, actors, stage managers, voice coaches and other players in the production process to the University to consult with experts about the historical and technical aspects of the plays, Williams said. This year that will be the same, but Williams added the visit would also bring in more knowledge and expertise from both parties.
“This year … there is deep penetration by the Royal Shakespeare Company into the University, and our people get a chance to work with them and the scholars elsewhere,” Williams said. “It touches on the intellectual life of the University more broadly than ever before. This is really exciting.”
Gary Krenz, special counsel to University President Mary Sue Coleman, wrote in an e-mail interview that both parties were pleased with the success of the 2010 visit, which catalyzed mutual interest in a return trip.
“They thought that the interactions with faculty, students and audiences here were really topnotch and instrumental in the development of the three plays they worked on — all of which have gone on to successful production in England,” he wrote.
Krenz added he heard from various members of the campus community that the visit two years ago spurred desire for the company to return among both faculty and students.
“From our standpoint, the 2010 residency was also a great success,” he wrote. “I’ve had a number of faculty tell me that it was a fantastic experience for themselves and their students, and that they would welcome the RSC any time. So the question wasn’t so much whether to come, but rather when.”
In a Feb. 16 press release, Coleman said the return of the RSC is important to fostering the arts at the University.
“Creating and conveying the arts to inspire, captivate and educate is part of our mission,” Coleman said.
Williams pointed specifically to a daylong symposium that the University’s Confucius Institute will host with the RSC on March 12 as one example of the intellectual collaboration that will be showcased during the visit.
The visit will also center on the plays “Boris Godunov” by Alexander Pushkin, as recently adapted by Adrian Mitchell, and “The Orphan of Zhao,” which Williams said is one of the most important Chinese plays. Williams said he is excited to be working on the two productions, noting that they are “really not just two plays — they are cultural artistic streams.”
The upcoming RSC visit grew out of the group’s first creative residency at the University in 2010 titled “Creative Project 2010,” which Williams called “mutually enriching.”
Williams added that University students stand to gain from working with members of the RSC, who are true professionals in their fields.
“It’s a mutually deeply beneficial relationship,” Williams said. “It gives our students a sense of possible excellence. They get to work with and observe and imagine the processes of the very best, and learn that they can do that too.”
School of Theatre junior Emily Lyon, a self-proclaimed “Shakespeare dork” who was chosen to be an assistant director for the RSC’s upcoming residency, said she is thrilled for the RSC to return to the University and for the opportunity to work with its directors and actors.
Lyon was able to view the RSC’s production of Macbeth — directed by the RSC artistic director Michael Boyd, who will be among the group members traveling to the University this week — as part of a theater program she participated in last summer in London. Lyon said her experience watching the production and the skill of the RSC makes her hopeful about her opportunity to work with the RSC in the coming weeks.
“Working with the Royal Shakespeare Company has actually been my dream since seventh grade,” she said. “It’s a huge opportunity, and extremely thrilling and exciting. It’s sort of absurd in terms of how lucky I feel.”