Jason Kelly | September 6, 2017
The Empty Space
Their stage is grass, their sets a figment of the imagination. Trees frame their performance space under a canopy of leaves that rustle, like all the ambient noise around, at the unpredictable whim of forces beyond their control.
Wind and rain of English midsummer. Steam hissing from a coffee cart parked on the lawn. Children delighting in the thwack of mallets on croquet balls. Helicopters passing overhead. Double-decker tour buses, emblazoned with bright yellow lettering against fire-engine red, inching along the adjacent road.
These wouldn’t be the best circumstances for the Robinson Shakespeare Company — drawn from participants in Notre Dame’s off-campus educational initiative, the Robinson Community Learning Center — to perform Cymbeline, except for one thing: Nowhere on earth could be better. For this acting troupe, 14 kids from ages 12 to 18 and each already a veteran of the Shakespearean stage, the soil equals Broadway plus the West End plus a time machine set to the turn of the 17th century.
They arrived in Stratford-upon-Avon in late July for the first leg of an eight-day England adventure steeped in history and culture. An itinerary full of VIP visits with eminent actors, directors and scholars here and in London, plus plans to take in four professional productions, make them feel like golden-ticket holders to a Shakespearean chocolate factory.
Two performances of their own in the Great Garden of what was once William Shakespeare’s estate are a highlight. Shakespeare owned this land for the last 19 years of his life. Some of his later plays, including Cymbeline, may have been written here. His birthplace and gravesite are each less than 10 minutes away on foot.