Summer has arrived right on cue in Stratford-upon-Avon, with blue skies and warm temperatures encouraging people to picnic on the grass and take out boats on the Avon. Walking by the river late on Thursday afternoon I watched people learning to juggle, playing with frisbees, sitting and talking about theatre performances and celebrating birthdays.
It’s also conference time in Shakespeare’s town. I had spent the afternoon at the Shakespeare Institute where the Britgrad Conference was under way, helping raise funds for the victims of the Nepal Earthquake by selling cakes to the conference delegates.
Billed as “The seventeenth annual British Shakespeare Conference for Graduate Students, by Graduate Students” Britgrad has become a bit of an institution, and long may it continue. With the emphasis on students and academics at the start of their careers the conference has a lovely informal atmosphere, From our stall in the conservatory I could see students lunching on the grass in the beautiful garden, watched over by the bust of Shakespeare surrounded by peonies. The main business of every conference goes on within the lecture halls and seminar rooms, but the breaks between the papers are where the networking goes on.
Every two years the Shakespeare Institute hosts an international conference of a very different kind, to which only 200 or so invited delegates are admitted. Many of the world’s most eminent Shakespeare academics gather together at these conferences at the height of summer. They’ve been going on for well over sixty years, but next year, 2016, there’s to be a change.
For the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death the World Shakespeare Congress is to hold its conference in Stratford and London over a week in July and August 2016.
The Conferences are organised by the International Shakespeare Association, founded at a congress held in Vancouver in 1971. From the organisation’s website, “The first ISA World Shakespeare Congress took place in Washington in 1976 as part of the American bicentennial celebrations. Since the Washington meeting, the ISA has continued to stage World Congresses at five-year intervals: “Shakespeare, Man of the Theatre” (Stratford-upon-Avon, 1981); “Images of Shakespeare” (Berlin, 1986); “Shakespeare and Cultural Traditions” (Tokyo, 1991); “Shakespeare and the Twentieth Century” (Los Angeles, 1996); “Shakespeare and the Mediterranean” (Valencia, 2001); “Shakespeare’s World/World Shakespeares” (Brisbane, 2006); “Renaissance Shakespeare: Shakespeare Renaissances” (Prague, 2011)”. The 2016 Congress will be on the subject “Creating and Recreating Shakespeare”. Registration has recently opened at an Early Bird rate, and a list of the seminars and workshops finalised so far has been released.
In Stratford, morning plenaries will be held at the 1000-seater Royal Shakespeare Theatre, after which I note there will be an opportunity for “refreshment and networking”. Other venues will include Shakespeare’s School, the Shakespeare Centre and the Institute. After the first three days delegates will be bussed to London for events at the British Library, Shakespeare’s Globe, the new Sam Wanamaker Theatre at the Globe, and Guy’s Campus at King’s College London.
The two-centre conference will offer a contrasting week, moving from the intimate, rural town to the metropolis, just as Shakespeare did himself. In Stratford delegates will be able to see and even hold discussions of his work in some of the actual buildings he knew. Then in the hopefully warm summer evenings they’ll be able to walking by the river, making an even closer connection to the “Sweet Swan of Avon”.