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Spend a day in Shakespeare’s Theatre as stars of stage and study come together for A Bit Lit

A brand-new digital learning platform is set to launch with the aim of making the latest academic research available to anyone, anywhere, in a fun and interactive format. A Bit Lit’s (@a_bit_lit) debut event will take place on Saturday 15 January and will be the first in a series of events and courses drawing on historical and cultural research and performance expertise. #ABitLit #ShakespeareDayOut

Theatre lovers and history buffs are invited to experience A Day Out in Shakespeare’s Theatre, an opportunity to imagine a trip to the theatre in the 1600s, diving into the decisions and dilemmas they might have faced while taking in the sights, sounds and even smells of the day in a two-hour experience that will test the limits of Zoom. There will be fireworks, there will be bears – who knows, the theatre may even burn down – they often did.

A Day Out in Shakespeare’s Theatre draws together talents from the worlds of theatre and academia including Sir Simon Russell Beale and This is Shakespeare author Professor Emma Smith, who will introduce the event. Audience members will have a chance to create their own Shakespearean-era production with performers from improv troupe The Pantaloons, taking learning about Shakespeare’s theatre to a new, more immersive level.

To help build the atmosphere and provide clues as the audience creates the show, early modern theatre specialists Dolphin’s Back will perform a scene from the era, theatre and performance artist Emma Frankland and Scottish-Thai actor, theatre-maker, writer and drag queen Bea Webster will deliver traffic and weather reports for the day. The audience will then be joined by some of the most cutting-edge academics who will reveal surprising and unknown research about the period, including the Museum of London Archaeology’s Heather Knight on forgotten performance venues and Before Shakespeare’s Callan Davies on the women who ran Shakespearean theatre and Holly Dugan on the smells of early modern London. 

Aimed at those aged 14 and up, audiences will be able to enjoy the experience alone, or as a party, perhaps dressing up to meet friends online. Those who’d like to learn more after taking part are invited to join a follow-on course, called How to Make an Elizabethan Theatre to take place online in the weeks following the event, exploring the same ideas in greater depth. As part of A Bit Lit’s commitment to bringing performance and research to communities often underserved by theatre and universities, all events will be translated into British Sign Language, live captioned and audio described. A programme of further interactive events and follow-on courses will soon be announced soon, including topics such as Black Romance Fiction, The History of Dragons and Queer Urban Histories.

A Bit Lit was born on the first day of the UK lockdown, the brainchild of theatre historian Andy Kesson. During the past year and a half, A Bit Lit has posted almost 150 open-access, free videos celebrating research and creative work from Ghostbusters to coconuts, professional wrestling to reading in outer space. Andy is now joined by the Royal Shakespeare Company associate artist and performer Jimmy Tucker to make A Bit Lit a digital platform bringing research and creativity to new audiences.

Speaking about A Day Out in Shakespeare’s Theatre, Professor Emma Smith, Professor of Shakespeare Studies, University of Oxford, said

‘I’m excited to be part of the launch for A Bit Lit. I look forward to seeing how it’ll shake up what we expect from the online learning space and mash up the insights of research and scholarship with the energies of live theatre and improv.”

Emma Frankland said

“Andy brings so much fresh energy and insight to theatre history, which in turn, informs theatre present!”

Bea Wilson said

“I’m really excited to be joining A Bit Lit’s new platform, bringing a sense of play, fun and experiment to the world of learning and performance. I’m especially excited by the way they’ve foregrounded d/Deaf and disabled academics and performers in their patrons, performers and audience.”

Sir Simon Russell Beale said

“I’ve known the team behind A Bit Lit for a few years now having worked with Jimmy at the RSC. I know they’re as passionate as I am about opening up the plays of Shakespeare’s era to people everywhere so I’m delighted to be able to be a part of their first event.”

A Bit Lit Founders Andy Kesson and Jimmy Tucker said

“We are really excited to launch this new venture, creating a new space for learning together and connecting wide audience to the latest ideas and creative work. ‘A Day Out at Shakespeare’s Theatre’ will launch our new platform perfectly with its blend of archaeological, archival and performance-based discoveries and a real sense of anarchic fun. The theatres of Shakespeare’s time were brand-new experiments in public entertainment and the communication of innovative ideas, and we hope to create something similar online.” 

Andy Kesson is a theatre historian and award-winning teacher, with over twenty years’ experience working across the theatre and university sectors. He is the author of John Lyly and Early Modern Authorship, has edited essay collections on print popularity and the early English theatre, and is a regular advisor and collaborator in the theatre, from mainstream companies such as the Royal Shakespeare Company and Shakespeare’s Globe to newer, fringe and experimental companies such as Dolphin’s Back and The Pantaloons. His research and performance work have generated over one and a quarter million pounds of funding and includes the Before Shakespeare and Box Office Bears research projects and the first large-scale professional production of John Lyly’s queer and trans-positive play, Galatea, directed by Emma Frankland.

Jimmy Tucker has over 30 years’ experience working in the theatre, including collaborations with Michael Grandage, Edward Hall and Roxana Silbert. He is an Associate Artist at the Royal Shakespeare Company, performing in Stratford-upon-Avon, London and New York, including Michael Boyd’s Histories which won three Olivier awards. He is a founder member of the Propeller Theatre Company, and has taught Shakespeare in performance at London’s Globe Theatre.

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