RSC Associate Designer Tom Piper, MACE's Tim Court and Simon Berridge, RSC Executive Director Vikki Heywood, RSC Artistic Director Michael Boyd, Project Leader Peter Wilson (OBE) and Theatre Consultant Gavin Green presented the RSC's short film about the transformation project and took questions from the crowd about the challenges ahead at the RSC Open Day, Stratford-upon-Avon, Sunday 31 August 2008, The Courtyard Theatre. Introduced by comedian and television presenter Hardeep Singh Kohli.
HSK: I just wanted to welcome you back to a very exciting session about the new theatre. Now we've got Transforming Our Theatres, which is a film: a previously unseen film, and a talk from those involved in building the new space. I'm going to introduce Vikki Heywood, who's got a cast of hundreds, almost, to talk you through every component of the rebuild. So, ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together [muffled speech].
VH: Cast of thousands... Thank you very much for coming along to this session. We're going to be talking to you all about why and how we're rebuilding the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and, indeed, things that we're doing to the Swan Theatre as well. I'm here to introduce an illustrious panel, and then we're going to watch a short film. So, going from the end of the row: Gavin Green from Charcoal blue - Gavin is a Theatre Consultant and Theatre Designer and, indeed, he designed this auditorium so he knows a bit about thrust stages and he knows a bit about seating [applause]; Peter Wilson, who's our Project Director - Peter's very complicated and hard job is to make sure that he keeps both Michael and me in line and delivers everything that we ask him to. It's a very complicated job that Peter has and he's Project Developer for the entire development including the creation of this theatre, as well as the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and the Swan [applause]; Michael Boyd, who's the Artistic Director of the RSC and in his spare time he thinks up what he might like to do with theatres across the world - he's starting with the Royal Shakespeare Theatre - and it was Michael's vision about a thrust stage that was really the very start of the conversations about what we might want to do with the Royal Shakespeare Theatre [applause]; Simon Berridge - an extremely accomplished architect from MACE Associates who's the lead architect on this project, and it's his even more complicated job to link our ideas into bricks and mortar [applause]; and Tim Court from MACE - they're constructions managers on the project. Tim is the Project Director for MACE so he has to keep that entire complicated site on time, on budget, and on the way [applause]; and last but not least, Tom Piper, our Associate Designer, who is somebody who designs a number of productions at the RSC including the whole Histories cycle. But Tom also plays a really key role in helping us to envision our future ideas for the theatre and, indeed, played a key role in the design of this auditorium and our new auditorium in the RST down the road [applause].
[The audio from the Transforming Out Theatres film has been cut from this recording]
VH: Well, we're going to open it up to some questions from the floor, and there are roving microphones: you put up your hands - a mic will come and find you, and we'll make sure the people upstairs as well as downstairs are getting the opportunity to speak but just before we open it up, I might ask a few questions and I might have to hand this [referring to the handheld microphone] along the row, so... I'll have to wrestle the mic back then, won't I? Michael, somebody said there they'd do it again in a heartbeat. We're doing quite a big thing to this company and there are quite a few heartbeats to get through on the way. You talked in the film about what's driving this principle of staging. Would you just talk a little bit more about why a thrust stage is so important to us?
MB: I think it's as fundamental as why theatre might be so important to us. Increasingly, I think theatre will succeed or fail as it creates a community each evening, and the participants in it include the audience, and the experience of going to the theatre feels distinctively different from the experience of going to a cinema, or working interactively on a screen, or watching telly. I think the more we celebrate in theatre that which makes us unique, the more beautiful the work that we'll be able to do will be. I think it's interesting there's... for about twenty years now... there's a whole site specific movement in theatre: found space - taking over a non-theatrical space, thereby helping the audience feel that they're part of proceedings and I think that's great. I think the work of people like Shunt, and Punchdrunk in London and around the world is really exciting. A lovely example in the RSC's own past was the Dylan project, the promenade piece that went all the way around Stratford. There's no way that as a member of that audience you couldn't feel viscerally involved. However, to retreat entirely from large-scale public playhouses would be a shame - and sometimes I look at some site-specific projects with five people going through every thirty minutes and it begins to seem to me like an elitist occupation. This theatre is meant as a prototype for down the road, as an arena for deeply engaged public theatre that is not elitist but is as engaged as some railway arch project in the East End of London.
VH: Thank you. Peter, it says in the film there are 600 people involved in this project, which actually is a figure that comes as a surprise to me but there are 700 people involved in the life of the RSC so that's an awful lot of opinion that you're pulling together on a daily basis and focussing it forward on how the project should be.
PW: Yes, of course. There are also 700 people in the RSC also, you know, deeply involved in the project, and one of the hardest things about doing an arts project is the almost infinite ambition of arts organisations, that they can imagine all sorts of perfections, and the process of making something - making a project - is unfortunately about all sorts of compromises: compromises to do with differences of opinions about aesthetics; compromises about how much money you've got; compromises about time, and so the thing that you really have to do in the middle of these two pulling forces: one of which wants the Universe and the other of which wants to finish on time and on budget is to explain to both sides what the other side is thinking about and why that's important, and I think really the task is, as with any other exercise to do with people, it's about helping them to understand each other.
VH: Simon, our vision for this theatre is something we started talking about... well, gosh, probably... well, nearly three years ago [laughs]. What, for you, is the really exciting challenge about this job? What inspires you to leap out of bed every morning and think 'Yippee - I'm working on the RSC project!'? [laughs]
SB: I think it's a project that has a bit of everything, in a way. We've had to look across the RSC's property in Stratford; we've looked across the town. You had to tie that back into a building which has, you know, a hundred years of history in itself before you even start: a Victorian building, a 'thirties building, the Swan, and it's an immensely complex but incredibly gruelling task to take those few strains and try and create something that has evolved - and that's of its time, really, to tie those elements together - and does make a building that people will want to visit, and will draw people from outside of the whole country in a way which the old building didn't. So we're trying to retain the best elements of the old building, to keep the history and the ghost, as you saw in the film, literally, and to create a new one which has the best of everything.
VH: This is really a question to both of you about space and auditoria, and how they must work, both for the all-important audience sitting and observing but also to create the... to fulfill the aspirations of the Directors and the Designers and the Actors who are performing on the stage. Tom, you've been very involved in both this auditorium and the design of the future one and, from a Designer's perspective, and alternatively, Gavin, in terms of... from a Theatre Designer's perspective, what have been the real challenges?
TP: I think the challenge of a thrust theatre space for many theatre designers is... for so long we've been used to designing in quite a two-dimensional way: looking into proscenium arches, creating magical boxes in which things happen. You have to start thinking like a sculptor in a space like this - your work is viewed from all sides, not from one single viewpoint and you have to think in... very much in three dimensions - both vertically, as people who've seen the Histories have seen - we used a lot of height, we used the depth below - but for me a lot of that actually goes back to Shakespeare's playhouse and that's where I get the strength from: that Shakespeare had gods, he had traps, he had a stage with very little scenery, he was using the actors to tell the story and that's what one has to go back to as a designer and that's the kind of inspiration that I use.
GG: I think that's quite true, and it's balanced very closely with the experience as a punter coming to that stage, and trying to get all of the audience as close to the stage as we possibly can. This building helped enormously. It allowed us to test different various ideas and the physical limits, and we've now pushed the new RST even further, so we've brought everyone a little bit closer, made all of the seats a little bit wider... so improved the sightlines in that process as well, and we keep coming back into this room, keep testing our ideas on a one-to-one level and then feeding that back into the work... the rest of the design team's work, and especially the work that Simon's doing.
MB: Just... Peter's point about compromise: in a sense, this auditorium and... this auditorium is like it is because we were planning for the new Royal Shakespeare Theatre Auditorium, and it's like it is because of a great big compromise, which was very handy. First of all, we didn't think there was room for an all-singing, all-dancing thrust auditorium on site, where the Royal Shakespeare Theatre is. It was going to be too big, it was going to be ungainly, it was going to be ugly, it was going to be too expensive, it was not going to work... and then of course there was some talk of knocking it down... and then there was talk of 'No, let's not knock it down.' Then there was talk of 'Build another one somewhere else and turn that - turn the old theatre - into something very very interesting. There just came a very important moment where that felt to me - two huge monsters in quite a small market town - 'No, I don't think so...' but we could only build what we wanted, within the RST, as long as it could fit between the listed Scott Foyer at the front of the building and the proscenium, which we wanted to retain, at the other end of the auditorium - and it is a result of the restrictions of that dimension that this compact space was born. So compromise can actually be wedded with ideas and it can actually be the birth of a very idealistic idea like 'Let's have a combination of the intimacy of movies and the epic nature and intimacy of theatre.'
VH: And it's true, this is the first really purpose-built theatre for the RSC because like most theatre companies you tend to, kind of... a bit hermit-crab-like, you know, you find your home. It isn't necessarily a theatre that was purpose built for your home - that theatre was not; it was built to be a festival theatre for twelve weeks of the year, not actually housing all the work that we're doing. Tim, people say to me 'What's the thing that frightens you the most about this project?', and I say 'The River...' [laughter] It's amazing in that film because there she is, running across ground that is now an enormous hole and it's quite surprising how fast that's happening. How's it going?
TC: It's back to basics, really. You know, nuts and bolts and things. I think one of the major problems is health and safety. When we're carving out, working very close to... dismantling the building rather than standing back, flattening it and starting afresh, we've got to put men right in close and it's extremely dangerous. And I think we've also planned... we've got a lot of information about how the original theatre was intended to be built but not actually how it was. We knew we were going to have to keep a lot of flexibility for all the things we were going to find: we don't know what we're going to find until we've found it and then it's... we've got to maintain the flexibility in everything we do so that we can attack an issue, and we know we've got a lot of issues with digging in the basement, where we've found all the [muffled] works, not as shown on the intended designs drawn but in a totally different place, so it's just trying to keep one step ahead, you know, of what we're going to find next, and the flexibility to get around it and keep the momentum going. So, it's very exciting.
VH: And that dictated our approach to it, didn't it, because you're all construction managers, and that meant that you were working extremely closely with the architect because, on a project like this where you won't necessarily know everything you're going to find, you have to develop as you go along.
TC: As you see, at the moment we're working very closely with the Structural Engineers and we've got a team on site and we've also got an architect on site to deal with these exact issues and it's working brilliantly so far. We've had to compromise quite a few of them, and change the designs, and having them there on site, and having Peter, you know, on site - to get decisions quick - has kept us going where we are. What we've hit up with... against, so far... [muffled] we're where we are now... not miles off...
VH: In the wettest summer on record.
TC: Absolutely: flooding right at the very start, having a [muffled] drilling through two... two and a half inches of solid concrete and the programme allows for digging through nice soft mud. We're so close to where we should be that it's a credit to everyone who's been working on it. Fantastic team spirit.
VH: Yeah, absolutely. Let's start taking some questions. So if you put your hand up a mic will arrive - and then keep your hands going up and the mic... the other mic will arrive to the next person so we can move straight on.
Audience Member 1: Hi Guys. Ooh, goodness, that's loud. This is a question for all of you. Obviously the RST's going to be, you know, very exciting when it opens up - brand new building - but for any of you, what is the single most interesting new feature about the design of the RST that you're looking forward to seeing completed and having the public enjoy?
VH: I'm going to take that to Simon.
SB: It's got to be somewhere between the auditorium and the tower, hasn't it, really? I mean, I think there are two particularly striking features of the new building. One is that... is to see how this auditorium's evolved in the new space and to see it in use, and the other is a completely new feature that's designed to try and bring people into the building and take them through an experience and I think the view from the top of that tower is going to be very enjoyable when I eventually get to see it - and so will you guys.
MB: I think it's going to be lovely to be able to walk... to feel that the Swan Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Theatre are part of the same building. I think that's going to change us in unpredictable ways. I don't know how it's going to change us but I think it will... obviously it will stop you getting wet if you want to go from one to the other [laughter] but I think it will go deeper than that and it's got to be - as a working Theatre Director - it's got to be the next move on from this space: the auditorium.
PW: We're going to end up with all the microphones at one end [laughs]. I think one of the really interesting requirements of the brief, which was put in very few words, and which the architects, I've no doubt, when they started thinking about this - and Simon can tell us in a moment - must have had quite a tussle with... because they didn't have a tussle with the auditorium, they were told what kind of auditorium we wanted and that was kind of a given but there was a tiny piece in the brief that said 'Make the building more welcoming' and it didn't say how, or where, or in what way, it just said 'Make it more welcoming' and one of the responses is a tower, because that's something that you can go to the top of and suddenly find that even if you hadn't thought you were visiting a theatre you somehow managed to get inside it and one of the challenges for all of us is the huge number of people who come to Stratford who don't go to the theatre and how we'd like them to come to the theatre. When we were doing our focus groups, there was lots of focus groups with people who don't come to the theatre. One of the things they said to us was 'It doesn't look like a place that we could go into: it looks too theatre-y, it's kind of dark and it's got low lighting and that doesn't seem like something for us.' So we had this opportunity of making a bigger building, of opening it out in all sorts of ways: along the river edge, with the new space that links the two theatres together with the tower, that gives it a life all through the day and I think what I will be fascinated by - and I have no idea what the typical turn out will be like - is how all that daytime activity merges together with what we really do, and seeing how this, kind of, more permeable building works in the future.
GG: I think, in many ways - it's not the element that as a member of the audience you automatically acknowledge - it's... the entire back of house has been completely reorganised and there's a coherent logic to all of that but the stage areas, thinking back to what Tom talked about, underneath the new stage is a double-height basement and above the stage is - what we've termed a wedding cake - is a double-height flying zone, so rather than the quite limited constraints of this building, in terms of what we can and can't do, the scenic potential in the new building will be quite outstanding, and I'm kind of waiting for that opportunity to see it used in its... at its fullest, really.
TC: I usually say something to do with winches... [laughter]. I think I'll stick with Simon with the tower. I haven't built a tower before - I haven't built a load-bearing brick tower before - and I can't think of anywhere in the country where there is a proper load-bearing brick tower - and I can't wait. It's going to be the... probably the longest item on the job, one of the longest activities on the job to build. It's going to take us right to the end and it's going to be some sight when we lift the glass box onto the top as well, if we can get that to work - we're still working on that one [laughter]. Watch this space [laughter]. We'll get it to work, we definitely will.
TP: I feel a bit at the end of the list. Everyone's kind of covered all the things that I want to say, especially the Swan linking, I'd agree with that, and Gavin's stuff, I mean, for a Theatre Designer it will be a very exciting and a very different space that we can... No, there isn't one like it, where you will be able to really fly things, you know, the entire Forest of Arden can arrive and can disappear in a way that you just cannot do in this space [laughter], and likewise we can have a huge swing [muffled] under the stage, lots of wonderful things will probably happen anyway [laughter] actually with that - hopefully not for the opening night.
MB: Just to make absolutely sure there's nothing left for Vikki... [laughter] A really good canteen, with a good kitchen and enough covers for Accountants to sit down next to Actors and have their tea, and it could be a very important thing in the life of this company.
VH: [Laughter] Yeah, hardest job for last. This is going to sound like a strange thing to say but actually I want the old bits of the building to be loved in a way that I don't think they have been for a very long time, and I think part of the fantastic generosity of the Bennetts' design is that it's going to do that. So it's going to take the building on another journey forward into the future, but at the same time we'll be able to walk into that Art Deco foyer and see it in a way that you won't have seen it for many, many, many, many years and I think a lot of the lovely parts of the building had got completely lost, so part of it is to re-love the old as much as it will be to love the new. Next question.
Audience Member 2: [muffled] ... about this space here. Will it stay in its present incarnation once the Swan is actually... once it's all transformed across the road? With it being a prototype, is it a temporary space here or is it going to be the same?
MB: It is, of course, a temporary space. We wait monthly - with trepidation - for a listing order to be slapped on it [laughter] and we're not sure whether we want that to happen or not [laughter].
VH: But one thing I can promise you is there won't be two 1,000 seat theatres in Stratford. That would be crazy. That's not what the space should be. Next question.
Audience Member 3: Thanks. My wife and I have been coming here for over... well, coming to the RST for over forty years and we've seen about fifteen or sixteen productions in this space, including all the History plays, and we're very impressed. We think it's a wonderful space and it's very exciting to think that this is going to be the same shape for the new theatre but if I could just stand up I can demonstrate one thing that does bother me - and that is in the Swan, there is no allowance for a thigh that I think is normal, and I have never... I have only ever had one space, which was where I was at the end of an aisle, where I could sit comfortably in the Swan, so can I be guaranteed that there will be decent seating in the new Swan Theatre?
VH: Gavin Green...
GG: We've done a lot of testing and re-testing and re-evaluation in this room against what we've been currently designing, and exposing that to a wider consultation group. One of the key improvements is actually the physical seat itself because whilst the design parameters of The Courtyard seat achieved what we wanted it to achieve, there are a couple of areas that could radically improve the comfort, principally for the person behind you, by ensuring that there's adequate toe-space under the seat in front of you, and to get the envelope of the seat to be as tight as possible whilst maintaining comfort - and we do have more wider seats in the new space.
Audience Member 3: Is that relating to the pitch?
GG: Well, it's both the areas that we're looking at... and by the pitch, and the effect of the seats... the design of the seat in front of you, that can have a direct impact on your comfort behind you. So that lower area is an area that we have been looking at - called the seat weight.
VH: When I was walking over here one day I heard a lady saying to a friend of hers 'and this is the Swan Theatre, which was designed to be exactly as theatre would have been in Shakespeare's time, which is why the seats are so terrible.' [Laughter] I decided to just keep walking. [Laughter]
MB: I think we'll come clean here for this gentleman: we're not really radically probably going to be doing huge alterations to the seating in the Swan, is the truth. I think it has areas of discomfort about it and we may... we'll tinker with it in ways that will make it more comfortable. I think it's unlikely that we're going to be doing the kind of wholesale redesign of seating in the Swan in the way that we're doing in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and it has become, possibly, with The Courtyard coming close behind, one of the nation's very popular... most, sort of, favourite theatres, even while being a little bit uncomfortable but in all honesty, I can't... I don't think any of us can hold out a great hope for transformed leg room in the Swan. I think we are looking at that issue, as Gavin said, very seriously in terms of the RST.
Audience Member 4: Hello. I have two questions. One is: have you had to make any changes during the course of your... the construction as a result of your own experiences or as a result of representations that have been made to you? My second question is: having seen a number of productions on the thrust stage - I've observed that, frequently, actors have their back turned to the audience and therefore the audience cannot always hear what the actors are saying, which was not the case in the traditional type of stage. So, I wonder what comments you have upon that.
VH: Okay, I'm going to... the first point I'd like Peter to answer and then Michael, the second.
PW: There have been all sorts of consultations, as you say, along the way - both internal and external - and lots of them have had an impact on finishes... change... We changed the tower. The total design of the tower-top both for internal reasons and as a result of external consultation, quite a lot. All designs evolve. The Swan's evolved quite a long way from the first one. It would be quite instructive to put our first - or Bennett's first - competition sketches down next to where we've ended up in terms of the shapes of pieces, the materials - just exactly what kind of brick we'd find to add to the eleven brick types there are already across the two buildings - so it's difficult to pick out one thing but there's... the whole process is one of consulting externally and internally.
VH: Michael... thrust stage...
MB: I get the letters on 'I can't hear' and I have to say they haven't increased in here compared to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. There were problems with the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, particularly at the back of the stalls underneath the overhang: there was a long running, historic vocal issue there. Ironically, at the back of the balcony, nearly 30 yards away from the stage, you could hear a pin drop - you just saw lots of mushy splodges on stage instead of faces [laughter]. As regards the back issue, I would like to, sort of, turn that around in a sense and present it as a positive. Rather than seeing either this or this all the time, you get to see someone in 360 degrees and if a Director or an Actor choose to stay in one configuration for too long, to the point where you begin to feel sensory deprivation, then that's them not really doing their job properly is really my answer. I suppose... you can have a lot of your cake and eat most of it and I think we're trying to achieve that. You can't get that wonderful sense of what Chuck was going on about in the film - of being able to reach out and touch someone unless sometimes you get their enormously expressive back. It goes with the territory. If you're going to halve the distance from the furthest seat away to the stage, that is the only way to achieve it, and I was sitting where you are earlier on today and Patrick Stewart - having spent twelve years at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre - and today he announced that he is very depressed about the possibility of retreating behind the proscenium arch again, having played in this space - and it's the testimony of people like Patrick and Judi, who are very fond of this theatre - the Royal Shakespeare Theatre - Judi Dench - but we've managed to tickle Judi to come back and join the company again in the Swan. Not in the RST. There's a queue round the building - this is a piece of background to the design of this theatre - there was a queue round the block from Directors and leading Actors to do their stuff on the Swan... a very, very short queue of artists wanting to do their stuff in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre... whereas the queue for The Courtyard is already twice that long.
VH: There's a gentleman at the back and then we'll bring the microphone down here.
Audience Member 5: I've enjoyed seeing quite a lot of productions in this theatre and in the other one. In the last couple of years I've seen two excellent, very exciting but different productions of Richard II. One was in The Histories cycle here on the thrust, and the other, beforehand, was the Berlin... Berliner Ensemble company and when I came in to see that one it was upstairs and I experienced - I guess because of the space here - what I call the shock of the unexpected because they did put a white box here and cut it down, in a sort of false proscenium - and that was very exciting: it opened up and was... you know, all kinds of possibilities with it. Is that possibility being... you know, is it versatile enough over in the new building - the design - to construct such a, you know, white box, should any Director boldly wish to go in there away from what might then be the familiarity of a thrust stage - and if so, would it have implications in terms of reducing the audience because, I'm not sure, I can't quite remember whether it did, sort of, mean that there was a smaller audience in here for the Berliner Ensemble.
TP: I think you'll be pleased to know that we have, in consultation with Gavin and Charcoalblue, been working on a second version of the theatre: forming the thrust is the primary one, and that's what the building is built around but we're now confident enough with that form that we've been exploring exactly what Theatre Designers and Directors do, which is they love to come into buildings and mess them up, and it's one of the things that architects find very difficult about it is that, you know, people will come along and they'll cover that up, they won't want that, or they'll instantly paint it a different colour and so, actually, we are looking at a different... another form which is slightly less of a thrust, more based, sort of, around the Rose ground plan, and the Globe, so that's another possibility, and I am sure, given the flexibility of the stage that people will come in and do things that we didn't expect - and I think that's what one has to be humble about. We're creating a space that hopefully will last for 75 years or more, and we have no idea what people will want to do with it, and to predict that would be foolish because we have to give people a space with real character that they can then come and have a dialogue with.
MB: We can definitely do In The Round - easy peasy - in the new theatre. What Tom's talking about comes out to about here - bevels off in various different possibilities toward here - so it's much more head on. Perhaps this configuration would maybe be more suitable to a, sort of, conventional production of a 19th Century play - Chekhov or something - a very very deep thrust. Although I'm looking forward to seeing a very bold re-look at something like Chekhov that really does suit this space.
Audience Member 6: I've got two questions. One is: is the capacity of the new theatre going to be the same or greater than the other one, and the second question relates to the block that faces on stage: I remember being on the very back row in the old theatre many years ago, and looking down at the stage was like looking down the wrong end of a telescope. How much closer will the new back row be to the stage than it was in the old one?
VH: Just quickly on the numbers - the new theatre will be the same size as this which is just over a thousand seats. That is less than the old RST but, actually, those seats that were up in the balcony at the RST - towards the end of our time there you couldn't really give them away. They were just not regarded as being seats that people were prepared to sit in. So in fact, in terms of capacity, it will probably be not that much less than we always were. Gavin, do you want to take court on the seats?
GG: We're 1040 seats in the new house and in the old house I think we were about 1400 but, as Vikki said, about three hundred of which were struggling to sell. They were about 27 metres from the stage whereas here we're about 15 metres to the last row. I mean, I think about 80% of the audience are within about 10 metres of the stage so much...
Audience Member 6: How far was it to the back of...
VH & GG: 27.
VH: 27 down to 15.
Audience Member 6: Thank you.
Audience Member 7: Hi. First of all, thanks for doing this and also thanks for your work on a grander scale with the project. You obviously all invest a lot of time and effort into this so thank you very much. The question is about the first piece that's going to be performed at the new theatre [laughter]. Oh yeah. You've all obviously got favourite pieces, so I'm interested to know from each one of you: if you had your own choice, what would it be and the second part of the question is: at what stage of the process are you at, with regards to that very first season there. Thank you.
MB: Opening a building is getting more and more sophisticated, thankfully, these days. So you have... it seems to me that you open a building... you have a soft opening, which is really to test to see if the toilets flush, and we'll... there will be a performance part. We have, already, quite a few ideas about... which I'm not going to tell you about [laughter]. Then we have a kind of... I suspect the rhythm... our ideal rhythm would be a kind of chewy opening, not quite soft but sort of chewy...and that is to revive a play - a project of scale - but it will be something that's familiar. This the English National Opera, the Royal Opera - everybody who's gone through... and Vikki's... from Vikki's experience at the Royal Court as well - everybody's wisdom that they've shared with us is 'Open with something familiar.' In an ideal world - and so far so good - the new Ensemble (the new long-term Ensemble that we're putting together this Autumn - we're casting this autumn) will not only see us with a very large repertoire of plays, something like 14 to 15 plays through the next two and a half years, the repertoire gradually building up over that period as it did with The Histories, but it will also celebrate our 50th anniversary of the Company and open the new building with the best of its repertoire, because one of the things that we will need to test in the new theatre is can it cope with repertoire? So that's probably the chewy opening, and then you can have any number of Galas, Royal Galas, Presidential Galas [laughter] afterwards, with other shows, so I don't think it will come down to one Shakespeare title, actually.
VH: But it will be Shakespeare [laughter]. Oh, go on then, quick. Tom.
TP: I would... Macbeth [small applause].
VH: That's three tickets. We've sold three tickets [laughter].
TC: I don't think Hard Day's Night was written by Shakespeare [laughter].
SB:I mean, I think it's extraordinary how the plays are reinterpreted in the space, you know, it affects how they're reinterpreted so I'm not going to come up... in terms of a play... but I think it will be extraordinary to see how the space adapts them.
VH: Okay, the last words we said were from A Midsummer Night's Dream so let's make those the first ones.
MB: A repertoire [laughter].
PW: Something that doesn't test every single technical... [laughter]
GG: I was actually going to just use the cliche that Vikki used in the Dream... [laughter]
VH: Do we have another question?
Audience Member 8: Thank you. Could I also congratulate you on your vision for the new theatre and also your fortitude in driving the project through. As a local I know just a little about some of the difficulties that you faced externally but my question was this: in the previous incarnation there was a very clear distinction between the main theatre, the Swan and The Other Place - both artistically and conceptually. Do you have the same distinction in mind for the configuration of the new theatres in future?
MB: Those who want picture box, proscenium, two-room theatre will probably find them, most often, ironically, in The Other Place, which'll be very exciting. I don't think this feels like the Swan. It's got its own personality altogether - just because it's a thrust stage... It actually owes most of its personality to Shakespeare's own Rose Theatre. It shares, almost exactly, its footprint with the Rose. We didn't do that by design, actually. That was a result of those dimensions I talked about earlier: the Scot Foyer and our proscenium wall produced the dimensions of Shakespeare's Rose where he played The Histories cycle. Spooky or what?
VH: Time for a... one question.
Audience Member 9: Good afternoon. A slightly pragmatic question. My twelve year old - who gets, in fact, more opportunity than I do to come her - put some money in a bucket earlier on to support what you're doing with the transformation. She's off busy learning how to write plays, so what can I tell her is happening to that money?
VH: Well, I can... I would say that you can tell her that what's happened to that money is that wherever she sits in the theatre, when she comes to it at the RST, she will have an extremely good experience and, indeed, if she comes under the age of 25 she'll be able to get in for £5 every time, and she'll be able to sit either in the Stalls or the Circle, or the Upper Circle - she won't be made to sit all on her own up at the top. She'll be part of the audience and I think the main thing that we're doing with this is to make sure that when the people come, as young people, for the first time to the theatre they'll have a really good time, and they'll want to come back - and we had very strong anecdotal evidence from kids who were coming to the old RST, who were quite often up in the top in the Gallery, that it meant that they would never come back again because they really didn't have a very good time. So I think she's putting her money into her own future, but actually the future for lots of other kids who will come and find out about Shakespeare and, indeed, if she writes a play, I hope they're teaching her how to write a play for a thrust stage [laughter]. Any other questions?
Audience Member 10: This is a question of 'The glass is half empty'. The UK is renowned, for the last decade, for targeting capital expenditure coming in 200% over budget and 800% behind time. You guys are going to spend 100 million pounds and are promising me I can see whatever play on the 15th of August 2010. Should I book my seat or should I move it out a few years, and should we start contributing our money? In other words, what makes you guys sure you can deliver on time and on budget?
VH: First of all we haven't announced a date of the 15th August 2010... [laughter]
Audience Member 10: It's a leading question.
VH: ...and one thing I would say is, having done this before, we certainly won't announce the date that we're opening until we know exactly what date that is. We have been very careful to say it's 2010 and very careful not to set expectations of when that will be. I'm actually going to refer this question to Peter Wilson, who has built more public buildings than I have - and brought them in on time and on budget - but for me the key is honesty and open-ness and teamwork, and I think that you've got to have had a really good brief. I think you've got to work really well with your architects but, in truth, events are the things that often affect building jobs and my joke about the river is a real, serious thing, and we may not know everything that's going to happen to us over the next few years until 2010, and something may go wrong, and that's one of the things that you have to face on a building project. We've got good contingencies in terms of time and money and we hope we've made the right decisions. We also employed, I'd say, a very very experienced team to do this - because it is about experience that makes it work - but Peter, what's your trick? What's your key to success on this one?
PW: Do you know it's really easy? It's so easy that I'm probably doing myself out of a job in the future. You just have to determine that you can afford what you set out to do and don't try and set out to do something that can't be afforded, and you have to have enough time to do it in. So having... it's a flippant answer but having enough time and enough money is something that a lot of the projects that you're referring to haven't really worked out before they start. Some projects start, wanting to happen and lying about the cost, because they want it to happen and... knowing that they'll get supported later. That almost never happens to arts projects, so we have to be more pragmatic and sensible about it and we have, along the way, made lots of hard decisions about things that we would have liked to have done but realised we couldn't afford to do - but the other thing is, as Vikki said already, you have to make contingencies, you know, contingencies for money and you have to have contingencies for time. We built quite a lot of that in and the kind of things that we could foresee happening, we've made allowances for. As Vikki says, there are things that you can't make allowances for - you can't make allowances for the Avon flooding a metre higher than it has ever done in the past, you couldn't make allowances for the economic condition of the country and what that would do to the price of what you buy but everything you can make allowances for, we have. So some time in 2010, I pretty sure we'll open.
VH: I'm going to take this opportunity to thank the panel who've been here on the stage, and I'm going to hand over to Michael for the last words.
MB: Well, it's really... this is just cutting a ribbon really...
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