Shakespeare North opens its Doors to the Community
By Mike Yates, Director, Austin-Smith:Lord
Shakespeare North Playhouse opened on 15 July. First through the door was three year old Stevie Arabella perfectly embodying the optimism, hope for the future and local community as she ran joyously through the foyer. The weekend was an open invitation to the local community to embrace their new venue. Over 10,000 visitors took the opportunity to take part in free workshops and activities, enjoy free performances and explore the theatre, Sir Ken Dodd Performance Garden, Studio, foyers, café and bar.
On Friday evening “All the Joy That You Can Wish”, a ceremony and performance by Slung Low, was a glorious occasion. Taking part in the procession were local community groups: Act For Action, Al’s Activity and Respite Centre, Bryer Road Coffee Group, Imaginarium Theatre, KIER, The Lee Cooper Foundation, Merseyside Black Lives Matter Alliance, Prescot Cables F.C, SHARe Knowsley – Support & Help for Asylum seekers and Refugees, VIBE Knowsley and Shakespeare North Community Curators. It was wonderful, welcoming and inclusive.
From the outset Shakespeare North Playhouse by Helm Architecture and Austin-Smith:Lord has been a project of international significance that is firmly embedded in the local community. All Prescot is now a Stage; performance, storytelling, learning, having a go and hanging out will pervade the streets, the Piazza, Performance Garden and recreated historic “Cockpit in Court” theatre which can also transform into a contemporary space. This is a place of aspirations, dreams and entertainment.
The brilliant local author, playwright and rapper Ashleigh Nugent is a self-confessed local scally who realised his own dreams through his “Hero’s Journey”. Ashleigh now runs Rise Up, working with prisoners to find their own story and get the most out of life. Interviewed on Front Row on Radio 4 he said as soon as he heard about the project he knew he had to get involved. So how fitting that he co-curated the opening weekend and performed the first piece of Shakespeare on stage on Saturday night at the opening ceremony alongside a free form rap incorporating words used in the opening speeches which was breathtaking.
The exciting opening season includes; A midsummer Night’s Dream, A Christmas Carol, Serious Nonsense Festival, An Evening with Johnny Vegas, Rubbish Romeo and Juliet and As You Write It, a collaboration between Shakespeare North Playhouse and BBC’s The One Show to find and showcase new young writers. There is much more besides, and all details are on the Shakespeare North Playhouse website.
This was a levelling up project conceived before the term was first coined. It is a microcosm of the healing process that this nation needs after years of divisive politics. This has been evident in its’ bringing together people and communities from across the social and cultural spectrum. It promises to be a place where the social and performance spaces become a melting pot of chance meetings, ideas and fun with a rich mix of cultures.
The opening weekend was a great success. If you have not yet had the opportunity to visit please support this unique venue very soon.