Romeo romances Juliet, Caliban is as malevolent as ever, and Julius Cesar – well, there is still a conspiracy afoot to assassinate him. Shakespeare’s characters were brought to life recently to commemorate 400 years since The Bard of Avon’s death. And at Birmingham City University (UK) students just celebrated his life in a unique way. A life-size art installation featuring more than a dozen of Shakespeare’s most famous creations handcrafted from paper and cardboard caused much ado about ‘something’ recently.
On display were scale models of over six feet tall, a three-metre-high balcony and even a walk-in tavern.
Each piece in the installation was individually crafted by 22 first year students from the University’s Design for Theatre, Performance and Events degree course.
They used techniques learned on the course to sculpt 780 meters of corrugated cardboard and nearly 5,000 meters of brown paper into the entire setting and characters.
Among the figures on show were a likeness of William Shakespeare writing at his desk and full size replicas of some of theatre’s most famous names – including Richard III, Romeo and Juliet, King Lear and Caliban.
The exhibition took nearly three weeks to create, with students working day and night to make each setting, character and item from scratch, as well as selecting music and lighting to complement each element.
For Hollie Wright, module leader for the project, the project was a simple yet extremely effective approach to experiential learning. “We want the first year students to engage with fundamental principles associated with performance design including scale, narrative, space, light, sound, audience and collaboration; as well as abilities that are difficult to teach like tenacity and determination.”
The project began with students researching and responding individually to a given theme – which this year was Shakespeare. Ideas were pitched and a final one chosen to realise to full scale out of these basic materials.
The tavern in the installation was intended to replicate London’s historic Gorge Inn, where history’s most famous playwright is believed to have penned many of his works.
Traditional Elizabethan music played throughout the exhibition hall alongside words taken from Two Noble Kinsmen – Shakespeare’s final play – as a poignant tribute to his lasting legacy.
The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust helped students research the project and visited the installation to select a number of characters and settings – which are to be finally displayed across Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon when the project ends.
Marie Brennan, creative programmes manager for The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, said: “The remit of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust is to help the world’s understanding of the life and works of Shakespeare.
“It’s very rare that you get an art installation that really looks at the times that Shakespeare was writing in as well as looking at new interpretations of his own work, so it’s really an unusual and creative concept to bring those two together into one installation.
“We’re delighted with this collaboration and we’re really excited, that in this important year, we’ve got something we can show our guests from all over the world.”