The recent St George’s day celebrations of Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary brought one of the world’s cultural icons to the fore on TV, radio, theatres and cinemas around the globe. Shakespeare has been big news since his early plays took to the stage in Elizabethan London and there is no doubt that Shakespeare has been one of the driving forces of our cultural industries, his work translating from the spoken word on stage to music, ballet, film, TV, reinterpreted, mashed up, parodied, quoted, misquoted… Shakespeare is everywhere, pervasive in our language and culture.
With such a legacy and with such an important anniversary looming, organisations linked to Shakespeare’s heritage began thinking early about how to celebrate The Bard. One such company that has links with BDS, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, toured its production of Hamlet – a production shown in Dumfries with BDS sponsorship – around the world. A truly Globe global vision.
However, some of the plans didn’t come to fruition although they still leave a legacy of their own. This is the story of one interpretation of Shakespeare’s birthplace in its world famous house in Stratford Upon Avon, England that didn’t take to the stage.
BDSDigital was one of a select few companies asked to come up with a new interpretation of Shakespeare’s birthplace, originally set to be completed for the 2016 anniversary.
The year was 2011 and the BDSDigital team was given special access to the house, gardens and reception rooms in Market Street in order to develop its vision. The brief was to bring the exhibition and interpretation into the new century with special focus on the talismans of the collection, Shakespeare’s ring, the first folio of his plays, the bust and the birth bed. Reference had to be made to the flow of visitors and modern technologies were to be used, something for which BDSDigital is well-known.
“It was a hectic time,” recalls Steve Kirkpatrick, who led on the interpretation dossier. “The request to tender came in at the beginning of the summer and we had only weeks to put in our proposal. In some ways, this is good, creating a dynamic vibe in the team but you also have to take account of holidays and travel.”
Based in Dumfries, BDSDigital had a long journey down into Warwickshire but copywriter John Hudson went with his pen and camera to inspect and provide an account of the existing installation and spaces available. He then went with Steve to visit the birthplace of poet, Robert Burns, in Ayrshire, a space BDSDigital had previously interpreted for the National Trust for Scotland.
“I remember, Steve and I came armed with a thousand and one ideas,” recalls John, “and as we revisited what BDSDigital had already done for Robert Burns we decided to use that as a guide for what can be realistically achieved for Shakespeare.”
Creative challenges and energy go hand in hand and the challenge of William Shakespeare was proving fruitful. Motifs from the art of Shakespeare’s time such as the Renaissance sunburst or Gloria were cross referenced with modern scientific imagery; time-line threads became DNA as Shakespeare’s family history and then his global family influences were explored. The bedroom and bed in which Shakespeare was born became the point of origin for all the storylines that wound throughout the house and into the garden. Shakespeare’s birthplace was to become the centre of the Shakespeare universe, the Big-Bang from which all the poet’s creations came, all his characters, his language, pathos, bathos and genius.
“It was a crazy deadline,” recalls John. “I remember I had a long-standing business engagement in Puerto Rico that coincided with the last few days we had to get the bid ready. It was a flight I didn’t notice. I got on the plane, got out my laptop and wrote the final text for the bid over the next eight hours. When I arrived I turned on my phone, got a connection and emailed the file back to base in Dumfries.”
The proposal was put together by Steve with images, drawings and text in a multi-page bound document and sent off to The Shakespeare Trust.
“A few weeks later we heard that all our efforts had paid off as BDSDigital had been short-listed and was invited to visit Shakespeare’s birthplace and give a presentation alongside other short-listed design companies from around the UK and Europe,” says Steve.
The big day arrived with Steve and Managing Director of BDSDigital division, Eric Green, travelling to Stratford upon Aven to give the presentation.
“I remember sitting, waiting to go and present my pitch and thinking how incredible it was to be one of the small number of design companies short-listed to interpret the birthplace of the world’s greatest ever writer.”
“It was an exciting and memorable occasion and one which Steve rose to with aplomb,” says Eric. “Unfortunately, none of us knew at the time that the project was never to go ahead. There were no winners that day and Shakespeare’s birthplace remains the same as it was when our team first visited it. However, in another way, we were all winners, every company short-listed and presenting to the panel. We only hope that one day, when the funding and structures are in place, BDSDigital will finally get the opportunity to interpret the story of the greatest story teller of all time.”