The 1913 Tour Sets Out
"This visit will make Stratford what it has always aimed at being... a central shrine of the thought of all that speak the English tongue" Frank Benson
By Gregory Doran:
I was fascinated to discover that a company of actors from Stratford-upon-Avon had first toured America in 1913, exactly one hundred years ago, this year. I wanted to find out more about this Edwardian company and their tour.
They were led by the actor manager Frank Benson, who ran the Stratford Shakespeare Festival for many years in its early days. This extraordinary character was legendary for the way he cast his acting companies, placing a high priority on their sporting ability, particularly cricket. He once famously requested that his Mercutio be a fine left-hand batter. He was known affectionately to all as "Pa" .
Benson and "the old Bensonians" are commemorated in the stained glass windows at the end of the Ferguson Room in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford. At the outset of their North American tour Benson grandiloquently declared "this visit will make Stratford what it has always aimed at being, what the Olympic Festival was to the confederated States of Greece: a central shrine of the thought of all that speak the English tongue".
On the 20 September, the company sailed from Avonmouth aboard the ocean liner the Royal Edward, travelling with them a repertoire of fourteen plays (all Shakespeare). They would return eight months later, having circumnavigated the entire North American continent on an exhausting twelve and a half thousand mile journey.
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