The RSC are pulling out the stops this year to commemorate 400 years since Shakespeare’s death. This summer they have collaborated with Slung Low, a theatre company that create immersive productions in non-theatre spaces.
Inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Slung Low have created a Fairy Portal Camp which will surround the grounds of the RSC and take place over 10 days. It is a camp of 20 artists who are going to live in the grounds of the RSC and embark on a mission – to open the portal to the fairy world.
I spoke to Alan Lane, Artistic Director of Slung Low who explained the concept: “In the past there has been a portal to the fairy world and we believe that if you can get people in a magical place to come together and create a huge ceremony and say the right words in the right order, then you can open that portal to the fairy world again.”
It is essentially a metaphor that explores the themes around A Midsummer Night’s Dream and brings them together to create a series of events that celebrate Shakespeare, theatre and magic.
Over ten days all sorts of events and performances will be taking place, with the camp open at all times there will be things consistently going on in order to involve the community and provide them with an explosive experience. During the day there will be dance classes, willow weaving, poetry and much more, and then in the evening there will be a cabaret style show, ‘fairy raves’ around the bonfire, and an abundance of freshly cooked food will be served. On the very final night they will serve a great Indian feast and with an audience of 300 we will try to open the portal to the fairy world.
What is interesting about Slung Low’s vision is that they are trying to bring the magic of theatre to people who may not have experienced it before. Alan explained: “We tend to have an audience made up of people who really love theatre and go “oh this is different and exciting” and then there are other people who just understand it differently. People don’t care what it’s relationship with theatre is, they just care that it is going to be fun and interesting.”
Another reason non-conventional theatre goers are attracted to Slung Low’s productions is because they are either cheap, free or the audience are asked to pay whatever they decide. Alan said: “To be young now is a pretty rubbish deal as you have less money to previous generations and less access to things, we are going to give you free food and take you on an adventure and you pay what you decide or it is free.”
Alan’s experience with the company is extensive, his love for theatre whilst studying at Sheffield University then grew into the idea of creating a theatrical company. Along with his friends from university, they discovered the absolute glory you get when you make work in non theatre spaces. Alan said: “What’s really exciting is that you get a much bigger canvas, for example my last show stretched across maybe three-quarters of a mile which is bigger than any stage that we have.”
After starting to work in different and innovative spaces, the company discovered the possibilities and the scale in which they can reach. “We discovered that people who don’t go to the theatre would go to a theatre show as long as you don’t call it a theatre show and it wasn’t in a theatre. You can have every other element of a theatre show, you can have difficult ideas and poetic language and all sorts of things,” Alan added.
This is the first time Slung Low have tackled Shakespeare as they typically deal with contemporary plays. However Alan describes working with the RSC as “incredibly exciting” and feels that Shakespeare is an important challenge for the company to tackle. For an eccentric company that rarely draw the line, it is unusual to find something that they haven’t explored. Alan said: “It is not often that we say we have never done anything like this before, it is a real change and to be supported by brilliant leaders that the RSC have given us is great.”
Aside from the art and performance taking place, the food is a huge part of the camp and it’s celebrations. Each night a delicious meal will be prepared for the audience – free of charge. This is something Alan and the team have really thought about, and how it can benefit the community.
“I am hoping the word is going to get out that there are people cooking some really high quality food and it’s free, we are already contacting the various homeless shelters and charities.” They believe they can create something that will benefit everyone and therefore fulfil their vision which is to bring theatre to a new audience whilst also providing a new experience to regular theatre goers.
“What we are doing is playing around the edges and what I have always been really proud of is that we are bringing the idea of the RSC to a different audience. The RSC are amazing at what they do and only a fool would deny that, but there are people who would never go to the RSC who will come because it is twenty lunatics in the middle of a forest dancing around a bonfire cooking food, and that is a different experience you can get to any other time at the RSC.”
The Fairy Portal Camp opens at the RSC on the 19th of June and runs through until the final ceremony on Saturday the 25th of June. All information for the event can be found on the RSC website.