Wendy is performing in Henry VI: Rebellion as part of Blackpool Grand Theatre's Shakespeare Nation group. She is a retired careers adviser who volunteers as a Heritage Guide for her local council.

I’ve been retired for 15 years and have been a volunteer for a number of organisations, including leading and talking to groups about our local heritage. Most of my career was as a Careers Adviser/Manager so I am very used to addressing gatherings of staff, students, parents and employers. However the Shakespeare Nation Project has been my first foray into performing. One of the choirs I’m involved with was approached for volunteers, so off I went to an Introductory/Activities Day and haven’t looked back since! Our first performance at The Grand was a local take on Romeo and Juliet under the lively leadership of Creative Director Jo Cleasby and the RSC's inspirational Ian Wainwright. I also became a Shakespeare Champion - working with pupils and publicising The Grand’s forthcoming productions at my choir. However lockdown put paid to those plans and we instead embarked on our Zoom journey, which continued over many months. Our ‘Once More Unto the Breach (Beach)‘ production video addressed fears of going outside in early pandemic times and our lockdown experiences. RSC staff such as the wonderful Michael Corbidge were involved and a couple of RSC actors took part in our little production. It was inspirational to see “the professionals” at work. Most of us responded to a Creative Writing Challenge set by Ian, which was great as he provided encouraging feedback. Our Zoom activities were also something to look forward to each week in those dark days of isolation.

A woman with a hedgehog-print scarf smiles at the camera.
Photo by Jo Cleasby © RSC Browse and license our images

As we moved onto The Comedy of Errors, still via Zoom, we were treated to input from other RSC staff including Set Designer Anisha and the continuing involvement of Ian. I played the part of a Tour Guide and was happy to write my own script. When we were able to perform it live in town, I spoke outside our iconic buildings such as the Tower, Winter Gardens and Grand Theatre. All great fun and we learnt a lot, but not good weather for recording. Like many, I was not familiar with Shakespeare’s Henry VI plays, one of which is of course our current production. Ian ran a brilliant workshop to introduce us to the main characters late last year. I was fairly familiar with the history of that time and Ian suggested watching The Hollow Crown - although obviously not ‘Shakespeare’. Having requested the boxset for Christmas, I found myself ‘binge watching’ the whole series! I don’t know how I missed it when first televised 10 years ago - so many great actors. We were introduced to Producer Aaron and it was decided which 12 of us would take part in Henry VI: Rebellion. As well as Aaron we have recently worked with Voice Coach Gary Horner. Their sessions have been very helpful to improving our performance and delivery. As well as playing one of the townsfolk, I am understudying the Simcox’s Wife role. I think we’re all excited to be going to Stratford next week for costume fittings and technical rehearsals. It will be such a privilege to appear on the Royal Shakespeare Theatre stage alongside professional actors in May. I am so glad I embarked on the Shakespeare Nation journey and appreciate the enthusiasm, encouragement and patience that Jo and all the RSC team have brought to each activity. I have learnt a lot and met many interesting people - now let’s look forward to Rebellion - bring it on!  


Shakespeare Nation and the Rebels

Seventy-four adults from Blackpool, Bradford, Canterbury, Cornwall, Norwich and Nottingham, appear alongside the professional cast in our show Henry VI: Rebellion. They are part of Shakespeare Nation, our community participation programme run with our partner theatres, aimed at people with little or no experience of Shakespeare, either as a theatre-goer or performer. They play the roles of working people who take part in the rebellion led by the character of Jack Cade against Henry VI, and townsfolk when the king is out hunting.

The Shakespeare Nation adult engagement work is generously supported by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.

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