Into the Open Air
The Summer of 2005 saw a spectacular out-door production of Romeo and Juliet in Rowntree Park. For the first time, the project actually made money on a single production, largely because there was no charge for the use of the venue. The weather was kind, without a single night lost to rain. There followed an Autumn production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona at Friargate and, in the Summer of ’06, another successful out-door production … the ever-popular A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
That Autumn saw York’s first production of King John for at least a hundred years (at Friargate, with “digi-projection” employed by the YSP for the first time) and then, in the Summer of 2007, the Project had to face its biggest challenge to date … that of staging all three parts of Henry VI. It was decided to edit them down to two shows (done in rep) in York’s medieval Guildhall. This was to be a truly spectacular “event”, presented in modern dress, with yet more “digi-projection” and all manner of special effects.
Despite the central location of the Guildhall, audience turn-out left much to be desired until the end of the run. Even so, those who saw it were wildly enthusiastic, agreeing that it was a hugely imaginative and spectacular take on a little known story … brought alive by some truly memorable staging and acting. Thus (counting Henry VI as “three-shows-in-two”) the York Shakespeare Project found itself almost one third of the way through the entire canon a mere seven years after its inception! Even so, Henry VI proved such a vast undertaking that it was felt that members deserved an Autumn off.
Therefore 2007 saw no Autumn production, but plans were certainly afoot for the Summer of 2008 when the YSP staged As You Like It in the Residence Garden (off Dean’s Park, behind the Minster). There is no doubt that outdoor Shakespeare (especially comedy) appeals, and the wooded glade next to the Old Library stood in very well for the Forest of Arden.
This was followed by a sequence of three shows to take place in the Studio Theatre at 41 Monkgate: The Merchant of Venice in November 2008, Julius Caesar in summer 2009 and Richard II in November 2009.
Summer 2010 saw YSP take on one of its most ambitious works yet: the staging of Henry IV parts 1 and 2 in rep at the Church of St Martin-cum-Gregory, Micklegate, York. The production was received excellently by its audiences, and the atmospheric setting was enjoyed by all.
Since then, we have produced Much Ado About Nothing in Rowntree Park, Troilus and Cressida in Upstage Youth Theatre, and The Merry Wives of Windsor again in Rowntree Park. During this period the project took part in the RSC’s ‘Open Stages’ promotion, and were able to take both Much Ado … and Merry Wives … to the RSC’s open air space, The Dell, in Stratford.
Autumn 2012 saw a first for the project, as we performed in the Studio space at York Theatre Royal. Our production of Othello, directed by Mark France, sold out the entire week of its run.
2013 saw us perform Hamlet in St Martin-cum-Gregory Church, and a return to the Friargate Theatre for Measure for Measure – our 21st production, and 24th play!
Since its inception, the Project seems to have evolved an interesting pattern of membership. Every production to date has fielded a very healthy mix of old stalwarts; experienced (if semi-transient) interested parties, and complete novices. This is as it should be, and applies to directors, back-stage crew and front-of-house people as much as it does to actors.
Back in 2000, one of the founder members pointed out that the child who would eventually play Miranda in the Project’s final production (The Tempest) had not yet been born. She probably has now, but will be no more aware of her destiny than the Project is of her identity. An intriguing thought! (UPDATE: Effie Warboys, who played Miranda in our production of The Tempest in 2022, was in fact two months old at the start of the project!)
J E Muldowney: Project Historian