How do we choose which plays to do and when to do them? Well, we don’t have a big Shakespeare Wall-chart in the office on which we slowly check the plays off with a satisfying Sharpie tick, although come to think of it that might be fun. Of course, one of our goals is eventually to have performed all of Shakespeare’s plays, but programming is not an exact science and every decision is influenced by many factors, some of them artistic, some of them pragmatic. Take this year for instance. We talked about what we wanted to do, what hadn’t we done in a while, what had we never done, what does the audience want, how can we balance giving the audience what they want with giving them something new and challenging, what plays work together as a season and so on. Casting is a massive part of programming too. So is location. We are, after all, mainly an outdoor theatre company.
And which comes first, the programme or the theme? That is definitely a chicken and egg question, but mostly we find that, having chosen a programme of plays that feels right, the theme emerges organically. The plays feel right together for us because they do share common threads.
Try as we might we couldn’t force a theme that connected directly with the Commonwealth Games, an event that will draw large numbers of visitors to our city during the period we perform. Believe it or not one of us was actually heard to speak the phrase “Shakespeare just isn’t very commonwealthy!” But when we thought about the other major event preoccupying our nation this year, our season’s theme seemed obvious.
Our plays this summer all investigate identity, nationality & leadership at a time when these issues will be at the forefront of Scottish life. Which, when you think about it, is a theme that isn’t just about the Independence Referendum, but is about the Commonwealth Games too. It’s about who we are and what we are, as people, as communities, as countries.
How does a person, a community, a nation define their identity? What are the costs and compromises a person or a nation has to make to define or defend that identity? What should government and leadership look like? What should we demand of our leaders and of ourselves?
So there you have it. That’s what we are doing this year. Did you notice how I didn’t tell you what any of the plays are?
“Lord, we know what we are, but know not what we may be.” (Hamlet, Act 4; Scene 5)