Royal Shakespeare Company Undertakes Epic Installation Project In New York City
NEW YORK -- Shipping 400 tons of steel, more than 60 performers and close to 50 separate 40-foot shipping containers across the Atlantic to build a brand new theatre in the span of 15 days might seem daunting, but the Royal Shakespeare Company is taking things in stride.
"In terms of sheer moving of objects and the number of things that can go wrong, this might be the biggest thing we've done," the company's artistic director, Michael Boyd, told The Huffington Post. "There are still frustrations. But we'll sort them out."
After nine months of planning, the RSC arrived in mid-June to build an entire, 50-foot-tall steel-framed theatre inside the 55,000 square-foot drill hall of Manhattan's Park Avenue Armory, one of the largest and oldest unobstructed spaces in New York. They are planning to stage five of Shakespeare's classics this July.
More impressive, perhaps, is that this project is happening less than a year after the company reopened and redesigned its own massive theater in Stratford-upon-Avon, in the United Kingdom.
Boyd called the armory a "ridiculously charismatic" space and said he hopes that this ambitious structure, which can seat almost 975 people in the round, will serve to implicate the audience in the action on stage.
WATCH a video about the RSC building process:
Under Boyd's leadership, the RSC has enjoyed a sort of renaissance in recent years, anchored by structural developments and bolstered by ambitious undertakings like 2010's year-long "Complete Works of Shakespeare Festival," which provided just what it claimed it would -- every single Shakespeare play ever written, staged in full.
"And next year for the London Olympics we're producing a World Shakespeare Festival," Boyd said. "It should be a pretty monstrous undertaking."
Boyd expressed a desire for his company to "steal back some of the territory of the gorgeous, site-specific theater that's gone up over the past 30 years," and continue to push the envelope for the RSC. This current project in the Park Avenue Armory certainly achieves that, he said, though he hopes future productions will take things a step further.
Boyd pointed to the recent influx of site-specific shows in the U.S and U.K., giving a special mention to Punchdrunk, a U.K. theater collective whose interactive, Macbeth-themed "Sleep No More" is currently astounding audiences in New York City.
"The future of theater -- it's going to be about an event. A sharing. A very direct, honest communication," he said.
The RSC's "Romeo and Juliet," currently on stage as part of the festival, is certainly an event -- a lively, pulsating one, with exploding fireballs and raucous sword fights and tribal dance numbers. The show is so lively, in fact, that during Tuesday's matinee performance, Sam Troughton, the actor playing Romeo, suffered a knee injury. The play had to be stopped for thirty minutes so an understudy could be prepped to take the stage. As of Tuesday evening's performance, company member Dyfan Dwyfor had assumed the role.
But if things are lively, they're not going stale. A storied, established institution, Boyd is trying to make sure the RSC never gets "safe," and continues to challenge itself.
"Make the elephant nimble," he said. "And celebrate, actually, what we can do that no other theatre company in the world can do. That's what we're doing here."
UPDATE: Playbill reports that actor Sam Troughton is undergoing surgery for his knee injury. No word yet on if/when he'll return to the company.