After hearing Andy Kesson speak at a Shakespeare Festival a couple of years ago, I was eager to find out more about the newly formed collaboration ‘A Bit Lit’. Founded by couple Andy Kesson and Jimmy Tucker, they are excited to share their passion for Shakespeare with others who wish to learn about the culture of the 1600’s. Using performance, this will be a truly interactive, inclusive way of learning.
A Bit Lit’s A Day Out in Shakespeare’s Theatre will take place on Saturday 15th January 4pm–6pm, and will be followed by a longer course, How to Make an Elizabethan Theatre starting 14th February.
To find out more and book tickets visit – https://abitlit.co/ Further courses and events will be announced soon.
Your first course A Day Out in Shakespeare’s Theatre, offers the chance to imagine what a trip to the theatre would have been like in the 1600’s. Does the ‘A Bit Lit’ experience require prior knowledge of early theatre?
No prior knowledge of early theatre is required – we will all learn together, whatever we already know. A Day Out in Shakespeare’s Theatre is a two-hour online event, aimed at immersing audiences in the experience of going to the theatre in 1600. We’ll experience some of the sights, smells, and experiences of that trip, and learn as we go. The event will then be followed by a four-week course, How to Build an Elizabethan Theatre, for those who want more.
How do audience members get involved in creating a Shakespeare play on the course?
Throughout our launch event, audience members will be invited to vote on key decisions in our journey through 1600 London to the theatre. Once we get to the theatre, audiences will then be asked to choose what kind of play they’d like to see, and our improviser company will create a short play on the basis of audience decisions. As our improvisers perform, audiences will also be invited to make new suggestions for plot twists in the Zoom chat.
A Day Out in Shakespeare’s Theatre is the first in a series of courses. Who else are you collaborating with to help to widen the course’s repertoire? Do the courses follow on from one another to develop knowledge and skills or is each one a stand-alone course?
A Bit Lit is running a combination of events and courses, with events acting as introductions to a topic, and courses offering a more long-term engagement. We’re working with a wonderful range of performers, scholars, creative writers, and others to explore subjects such as the history of dragons, queer urban life, and black romance fiction.
Do the events only focus on Shakespeare, or will you be looking at other 1600’s playwrights?
The upcoming debut event will be hosted by our very own William Shakespeare, but we’ll look much more broadly at the world around him, and the world that made him. That means we’ll hear about the women who ran the theatres, the racially diverse neighbourhoods in which they were built, and the kind of plays that Shakespeare acted in and wrote alongside.
Andy and Jimmy, you founded ‘A Bit Lit’ together. Can you tell us a little about your background and what inspired you to set up ‘A Bit Lit’?
Jimmy is an actor with over 30 years’ experience in the theatre, with a particular engagement with classical theatre, and is an Associate Artist at the Royal Shakespeare Company, Andy is an award-winning theatre historian whose work focuses on parts of Shakespeare’s culture that were central at the time but have now been forgotten, from best-selling sixteenth-century novels to kinds of performance we often side-line, such as wrestling or the cruel but very popular practice of animal baiting. The worlds of theatre and research are often kept far apart, but both Jimmy and Andy have worked in each other’s sectors, Jimmy as a performer for a number of research projects focused on Shakespeare’s era, and Andy collaborating with major and fringe theatre companies and practitioners to create new research and new performances. In the wake of Covid, both of our sectors are under threat, and A Bit Lit aims to show off all the good things that creative work and research can bring us, so it felt natural for us to work together on this project!
Do you feel that collaboration between academia and theatre improves how Shakespeare is taught by bringing the text alive in performance, rather than just examining text alone?
Absolutely – we’re both really passionate about combining our two worlds and learning together! Whilst we love the words Shakespeare wrote, we don’t really believe in ’the text’. Writing in Shakespeare’s theatre was fluid and negotiable and constantly changing, and authors were not in control of the performance in quite the same way. In addition, Shakespeare’s theatre was set up at a time of plague and was much better attuned to working around lockdown than we now are. Shows had very limited rehearsal periods, which kept down costs, and actors could mount a show with almost no lead-in time, which made them flexible around sudden closures and re-openings. We want to celebrate this time period when audiences and actors worked together in a much more live, improvisational way to create the show.
What do you hope the recipients of your courses take away with them after their experience of learning the ‘A Bit Lit’ way?
Perhaps the most important thing for us is that audiences will have fun. The Roman poet Horace said that the best way to teach was through delight, and we are with Horace all the way! We hope audiences will get to see Shakespeare’s time in a completely new way, which stresses the extraordinary vibrancy and diversity of the period and gets us thinking about new ways to do theatre now as well as then.
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.