Next year we’ll be celebrating Shakespeare like never before. Working with many of our country’s leading arts organisations, I hope we can bring Shakespeare to millions across the world on television, radio and online. That’s our big ambition – to make Shakespeare irresistible to everyone.Tony Hall, BBC Director-General
Date: 05.11.2015 Last updated: 09.11.2015 at 18.48
Shakespeare’s genius will be brought to life for millions of households in the UK and around the world like never before under ambitious digital plans which will see the BBC teaming up with some of the country’s leading arts organisations.
An online festival, a digital project tracking Shakespeare’s inspirations around the country, and interactive lessons for school children are among the plans which will see Birmingham - a home of digital innovation at the BBC – play a leading role in the BBC’s celebrations marking 400 years since the death of Shakespeare in 2016.
The digital plans, part of Director-General Tony Hall’s pledge to create a more open BBC, involve working with organisations big and small from the Royal Shakespeare Company and Shakespeare’s Globe to the University of Birmingham and the British Film Institute.
They follow programme highlights which have already been announced, including Russell T Davies’ adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for BBC One, a BBC Two Broadcast of the RSC’s Shakespeare Show (W/T) with David Tennant, and the Hollow Crown: The Wars Of The Roses, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Judi Dench.
The digital plans announced today include:
Launching an online Shakespeare Festival giving everybody the best of Shakespeare in one place. Co-curated by the BBC and the British Council and working together with organisations including the Royal Opera House, Shakespeare’s Globe, Hay Festival, the Space, the British Film Institute and the Royal Shakespeare Company, we’ll launch Shakespeare Lives with a special day packed with live performance, events and more on 23 April. The festival will include world-beating performances, insight from great artists, gems from the archive and interactive Shakespeare experiences.
Shakespeare On Tour will draw on original archive material and research from Records of Early English Drama (REED) and the British Library, together with academic support from the Arts and Humanities Research Council and De Montfort University, to build a digital picture of key historic Shakespeare performances from his lifetime to the present day.
Interactive Live Lessons, produced by BBC Learning and broadcast from the Library of Birmingham for school children across the UK.
An interactive map, produced by the BBC in partnership with the Library of Birmingham, the University of Birmingham Digital Humanities Hub, the University of Birmingham Shakespeare Institute and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, will be installed in the Library of Birmingham allowing users to explore the life, times and works of Shakespeare.
Schools, colleges and universities across the UK will be given access to hundreds of BBC television and radio broadcasts of Shakespeare’s plays, sonnets and documentaries through the digital BBC Shakespeare Archive Resource.
The BBC digital innovation unit - the Digital Guerrillas - will build on the social media work they have already done with Birmingham-based teams to help make Shakespeare Live a truly social event.
Broadcast content coming from Birmingham includes:
A series of 9x30-minute programmes, produced by BBC English Regions, for BBC One regionally, entitled the Best Bottoms In The Land, overseen by BBC Birmingham, will follow the Royal Shakespeare Company’s journey as they put on A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play For The Nation.
Special Shakespeare celebrations in programmes produced from Birmingham including Radio 4’s Home Front and BBC One’s Doctors.
Tony Hall, BBC Director-General, says: “Next year we’ll be celebrating Shakespeare like never before. Working with many of our country’s leading arts organisations, I hope we can bring Shakespeare to millions across the world on television, radio and online. That’s our big ambition – to make Shakespeare irresistible to everyone.”
Joe Godwin, Director of BBC Birmingham and BBC Academy, says: "BBC Birmingham is the natural home for Shakespeare online in 2016. It is already the home to the BBC’s digital innovation unit – the Digital Guerrillas - and as Europe’s youngest city, is well placed to help take Shakespeare to a brand new audience. We look forward to hosting these fantastic digital projects next year, involving audiences and partners through Shakespeare events and activities at our redesigned Mailbox HQ which is now more open to the public than ever before.”
Greg Doran, Artistic Director of the RSC, says: “Shakespeare was a man with his heart in the Midlands. His plays are inflected with the sights and sounds of the Warwickshire countryside and he may well have returned to Stratford-upon-Avon to write his last great plays. His words still carry enormous power and remind us, 400 years on, what it is to be human. We are thrilled to collaborate with the BBC in this fantastic initiative to bring his legacy to audiences all over the UK, including work direct from the RSC's theatres in his home town. We will mark this remarkable anniversary with our Shakespeare Show on BBC Two, hosted by David Tennant, our nationwide tour of A Midsummer Night's Dream, and a year-round programme in Stratford, London, in cinemas and online, including the BBC's Shakespeare Day Live.”
Shakespeare Day Live and the Shakespeare Lives Festival
On 23 April 2016, the BBC, in partnership with the UK’s leading arts organisations, will mark 400 years since Shakespeare’s death with Shakespeare Day Live, a digital event which inaugurates Shakespeare Lives, a six-month online festival.
Hosted in Birmingham and co-curated by the BBC and the British Council, in collaboration with the Royal Opera House, the British Film Institute, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Space, Hay Festival and Shakespeare’s Globe, Shakespeare Lives will bring a remarkable collection of interpretations of Shakespeare’s work together in one digital space, for audiences in the UK and around the world to experience.
Featuring the work of a fantastic range of performers, writers and commentators, the festival will include iconic performances of Shakespeare’s plays and their most famous recreations as operas, ballets and films, as well as short themed segments and new content produced for 2016. Following the live stream on 23 April, this diverse collection of work will be available internationally for six months on BBC Arts online with further performances and new material added to reflect the events and activity taking place all around the UK to mark 400 years since Shakespeare’s death.
Shakespeare On Tour
BBC English Regions will build a digital picture of the explosion in the performance of Shakespeare’s plays from the first performances to the present day. Shakespeare On Tour will be hosted by BBC Online from Birmingham working in partnership with an academic project spanning 40 years called Records of Early English Drama (REED), and the British Library, as well as experts from the Arts and Humanities Research Council and De Montfort University.
Shakespeare on Tour will bring together new academic research with stories of Shakespeare performances told through original playbills from the late 18th century onwards, held in the British Library’s collections. The BBC will also supply historic archive moments in this unique timeline of Shakespeare performances. For audiences, this will create a rich map of the locations of performances of Shakespeare’s work, starting with his own troupe of performers, to highlights from more recent times. Audiences will be able to discover factual details such as the town halls, pubs and private houses around the country where Shakespeare’s plays were performed; how much Shakespeare’s players were paid; and the project will travel forward from the late 16th century to track other iconic moments such as the first – and controversial - appearance of black and women performers on stage.
This digital map of Shakespeare’s legacy will also produce stories to be broadcast across BBC Local Radio, exploring more than 200 researched stories of Shakespeare’s influence right across the country. Stories explored include performances by the King’s Men in the coastal village of Dunwich, Suffolk, the productive genius of Ira Aldridge – a widely acclaimed black actor in the 1800s who played several roles including Othello across the country - and performances by the Earl of Pembroke’s players, of which Shakespeare himself may have been a member, at Caludon Castle, Coventry for Lord Henry Berkeley.
Best Bottoms In The Land
A series of nine 30-minute programmes for BBC One regionally entitled the Best Bottoms In The Land, produced by the English Regions teams, overseen by BBC Birmingham, will follow the Royal Shakespeare Company’s journey as they put on A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play for the Nation.
Announced earlier this year, this national celebration of Shakespeare sees the RSC working with 13 partner theatres, 84 amateur performers and 580 schoolchildren, alongside 18 professional actors and the creative team for a major tour of A Midsummer's Night's Dream. The professional company will be joined by local amateur theatre companies - who will play the Mechanicals - and local schoolchildren, who will play Titania’s fairy train in each region in the UK.
The production opens in Stratford-upon-Avon at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in February 2016, before embarking on a nationwide tour and returning to Stratford-upon-Avon with the entire company in June 2016. The Best Bottoms In The Land will follow the highs and lows of this ambitious project with each episode culminating in the opening night of each region’s local performance.
An interactive map will be installed at the Library of Birmingham, bringing Shakespeare’s world to life on a large touchtable that lets visitors explore the life, times and works of Shakespeare and his contemporaries in a new and innovative way. It features clips of well-known interpreters of Shakespeare, including Helen Mirren, Orson Welles and Peter Hall, as well as historic documents and information about theatres and the locations of Shakespeare’s plays.
The touchtable is a collaboration between BBC Birmingham, BBC Archive Development, the Library of Birmingham, the University of Birmingham Digital Humanities Hub and the University of Birmingham Shakespeare Institute, including archive from the BBC, the Shakespeare Institute and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.
BBC Shakespeare Archive Resource
Launching this week, the BBC Shakespeare Archive Resource provides schools, colleges and universities across the UK with access to hundreds of BBC television and radio broadcasts of Shakespeare’s plays, sonnets and documentaries about Shakespeare.
The collection has been developed in response to BBC Director General Tony Hall’s ambitious plans, announced in 2013, to digitise the BBC’s extensive Shakespeare archive with the aim of making it available to those in formal education and learning in the UK. The material, which dates from the 1950s, includes the first British televised adaptations of Othello and Henry V, classic interviews with key Shakespearean actors including John Gielgud, Judi Dench and Laurence Olivier, and more than 1,000 stills of Shakespeare productions.
The BBC Shakespeare Archive Resource builds on the work of the Research and Education Space (RES), a partnership project between Jisc, the British Universities Film & Video Council (BUFVC) and the BBC, that aims to make it easier for UK teachers, students and academics to discover, access and use material held in the public collections of broadcasters, museums, libraries, galleries and publishers. The BBC has built an underlying platform that can organise and index the archive collections of public sector institutions. This can then be used by developers and companies to develop products for use in the UK’s educational establishments.
BBC Learning Live Lessons
BBC Learning will be bringing Shakespeare to life for young audiences with two interactive Live Lessons, one for primary school pupils and one for secondary school pupils, which will broadcast from the Library of Birmingham to schools across the country. The first lesson, broadcast during March, will introduce primary school children to some of Shakespeare’s characters and the language they use. The second lesson, designed for secondary school pupils, will be broadcast in April and will explore taking a Shakespeare play from page to stage.
Drama from BBC Birmingham
BBC Birmingham will be producing five special episodes of Doctors. Each of these episodes, two of which will be filmed in Stratford, will be based on a Shakespearean sonnet and will be broadcast in April. Cast members of Doctors will also be recording Shakespeare’s sonnets, which will be published online as part of BBC iWonder’s offering. On radio, every episode of BBC Radio 4’s Home Front broadcast in 2016 will conceal one line of Shakespearean verse.
BBC Two - The RSC’s Shakespeare Show (W/T)
As announced earlier this year, the BBC’s celebration of Shakespeare in 2016 will also feature a unique collaboration between the BBC and the RSC to celebrate Shakespeare’s legacy across all the arts. This special event will be hosted by David Tennant, and broadcast live on BBC Two on Saturday 23 April 2016 from the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Featuring a programme inspired by Shakespeare and performed by major international talent, it will celebrate Shakespeare's enduring influence on all the performing art forms, from opera to jazz, from ballet to musicals. The evening is being directed by Gregory Doran and produced for television by John Wyver, Director, RSC Screen Productions, and BBC producer Catherine Stirk. The Shakespeare live event has been commissioned by Jan Younghusband for the BBC and the executive producer will be Phil Dolling, Head of Events.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream - BBC One
In a special commission for primetime BBC One, Russell T Davies is bringing his production of one of Shakespeare's best-loved plays to the screen. Starring Maxine Peake (Silk, The Village, Room At The Top) as Titania, Matt Lucas (Little Britain, Bridesmaids) as Bottom, John Hannah (The Mummy, Atlantis, Damages, Spartacus) as Theseus, Elaine Paige as Mistress Quince, Javone Prince as Snug, Nonso Anozie (Cinderella, Game Of Thrones) as Oberon, Hiran Abeysekera (Lion In The Tent) as Puck, Richard Wilson (One Foot In The Grave, Merlin) as Starveling and Bernard Cribbins (Doctor Who) as Snout. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, filmed in Roath Lock, Cardiff, is a truthful version of the original play. It’s warm, funny and has as much attitude and invention as any theatrical interpretation.
Russell T Davies, Executive Producer, says: "This is such an exciting range of actors from stage and screen, from wild comedy to high drama, and some making their first ever appearance on camera. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is coming to life like never before."
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a BBC Cymru Wales Production in association with BBC Worldwide for BBC One.
BBC Two - The Hollow Crown: The Wars Of The Roses
Following the outstanding critical and audience reaction to the BAFTA Award-winning The Hollow Crown series in 2012, Neal Street Productions and Carnival Films/NBC Universal bring the concluding part of this ambitious cycle of Shakespeare’s History plays to BBC Two with The Hollow Crown, The Wars Of The Roses. These three new adaptations will include Henry VI (in 2 parts) and Richard III, and will feature some of the UK’s finest acting talent, including Hugh Bonneville, Benedict Cumberbatch, Judi Dench, Michael Gambon, Keeley Hawes, Sophie Okonedo and Tom Sturridge.
The Hollow Crown: The Wars Of The Roses, a Neal Street co-production with Carnival/NBC Universal and Thirteen for BBC Two, directed by Dominic Cooke, was filmed on location around the UK. In the US, the series will be transmitted on PBS by Great Performances, produced by Thirteen Productions LLC for WNET.
Note to Editors
The BBC Shakespeare Archive Resource
The Shakespeare Archive Resource of TV and radio programmes broadcast pre-1989 can be accessed at shakespeare.ch.bbc.co.uk. Programmes broadcast both pre- and post-1989 will be available via the BUFVC’s BoB and the Planet eStream system. The material will only be available to those who can prove that they are in UK formal education.
Jisc is the charity which champions the use of digital technology in UK education and research. The BUFVC is a charity and membership organisation that promotes the use of moving image and sound across all subject areas in further and higher education, and research.