March Blog: The HandleBards do Shakespeare

March Blog: The HandleBards do Shakespeare

Paul from the HandleBards explains their attitude to Shakespeare in his own words. The HandleBards perform at Exeter Cathedral's Chapter House on 25th and 26th March 2016. For more information, please click here

We like to think that we are the closest modern equivalent to 'how it used to be done'. A small cast of male players, touring with a portable production to a range of public and private venues (from stately homes and castles to pubs and guildhalls), using manpower to travel from one venue to the next; this applies to both our own touring practices and those of Shakespeare and his contemporaries.

Though we have never sold this too heavily for fear of academic backlash, we thought we would provide some background on the situation. Much of what we say here is based on the theory of academics, but then again, much of what we know about Shakespeare is also founded on the same basis.

Some critics say that we have a slightly skewed vision of theatrical practices in the 16th century, due to the wealth of studies into London-based theatres such as the Globe and the Rose. Before the construction of permanent theatre buildings, players would take to the churches, guildhalls, taverns and yards of the towns to deliver their performances. It is believed that having a permanent base wasn't necessarily the norm for the period, and most acting troupes functioned exclusively on the road. The London-based players would perhaps join these troupes on tour when plague or political unrest forced the closure of theatres, necessitating a nomadic livelihood.

Touring companies would travel throughout the country on routes known as 'centuries', which were popular routes established by generations of travelling minstrels. The tours would consist of performances in town centres and in great houses, with companies charging at the door in the same way as they did in the London theatres, or receiving reward from patrons when performing at their private homes. Companies were very careful when planning their routes, ensuring a practical and profitable journey as they moved through the country. The lie of the land and the ease of moving on particular roads helped to shape the course. John Rudlin, an eminent scholar on theatrical practice, states that companies may even have travelled by water when the roads were muddy and impassable. Perhaps in future years the 'HandleBarge' may become a reality.

We think that our tour and the historical model mirror each other quite elegantly – though perhaps we should have paid more heed to the historical routes around the country as opposed to braving stints on the A1(M) from time to time. The 'centuries' have also morphed into a fervent use of Google Maps to judge distances and topography, and the popular transport of the horse and cart has evolved into the increasingly popular (and increasingly fashionable) bicycle.

Though history has developed the means, the end remains exactly the same. Be it on a balmy summer's evening in Scotland or a grey day in Coventry, the simple joy of live entertainment as a shared experience has always been appealing. And if we must cycle up hill and down dale for two thousand miles to make it happen, then so be it.

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