Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Interview: Anthony Webster

Stafford Festival Shakespeare would be nowhere without the hard work the supporting cast contribute to the show. Hailing from the local Staffordshire area, the supporting cast are a reminder of the community spirit Stafford Festival Shakespeare has maintained over the years.
Anthony Webster will be taking part in Stafford Festival Shakespeare for the first time this summer. We spoke to Anthony about his busy plans for this summer and his unusual performing history. 

Hi Anthony, tell us a little about yourself...

Much of the time I work as a Learning Support Assitant on a local college's performing arts provision. Away from this, I'm acting, be it for an independent film, as a supporting artist for a major release, as a cast member to help media students hone their skills or on the ameteur stage. When I'm not doing any of this I probably have my hands in glue, making masks or props for some piece or another.

Have you been involved with Stafford Festival Shakespeare before?

I’ve lived most of my life within a short distance of Stafford but this is my first involvement with Stafford Festival Shakespeare and I’m enjoying every minute with the company. The team spirit, enthusiasm and expertise in the group are really inspiring and invigorating.

You’ve performed in many unusual venues, from nuclear bunkers to art deco bank vaults, which would you say was the strangest and which was your favourite?

Years ago, during the Lichfield Mystery plays, I took the role of Lucifer within the city’s magnificent cathedral. I’m sure that’s where my love of performance in different types of spaces stems from, and so in a way this experience remains my favourite. As for the strangest, there are lots of contenders. Certainly, the ‘frozen-in-time’ atmosphere of both the nuclear bunker and the art deco bank vault really impressed itself on me. But I’ve run around a farmer’s field battling aliens from a distant planet with nothing more than a broom handle. I’ve knelt at a mock grave comprised of a bag of compost at the edge of a football pitch. It was surreal to stroll through a purpose-fabricated medieval London street, which was actually located within the Welsh countryside. Becoming Jesus Christ at the Last Supper late on a Friday night in an old primary school hall, and performing King Lear atop of Pembroke castle’s rain-drenched battlements are also high on the list of strangest venue.

Any funny stories to tell from performing in these unusual venues?

There have been a few funny moments! Whilst filming a robbery reconstruction in an art deco bank vault safe, the production cast and crew paralysed in disbelief when somebody accidentaly locked shut the door of the safe and noone knew the combination to open it! Thankfully, noone was inside and in fact the only thing locked in the safe was a banana as part of somebody's lunch! It didn't take long for the listed building's site staff to come to the rescue of the banana!

What do you think of the castle setting for the show?

What a location! It’s a landmark setting perfect for the event. When you have a dramatic feature like this against the horizon, you have to bring a play that’s worthy of it. That excites me because I know this zesty production will be superb.

What television shows and films have you been involved with?

This year I’ve taken supporting artist roles in the feature films ‘Henry IV Part II’ and ‘Les Miserables’. I seem to have the air of a beggar about me: both productions cast me as one, and the characters were great fun to play. Back in February, some might have seen me in an episode of ‘Aircrash Confidential 2’, a disaster reconstruction programme broadcast on the Discovery channel. I took a larger role as the Bank Manager in ‘Britain’s Biggest Heists 2: The Baker Street Heist’, shown on HD History Channel and Crime & Investigation Network. The rock band Blue Origin achieved Kerrang broadcast with their music video 'Godless' at the start of this year and I played Jesus Christ at the Last Supper in this dynamic piece. I was privileged to be cast as the University Lecturer for the Cisco Systems Inc. public spaces commercial broadcast, an advertisement focusing on their provision of technical expertise in the Olympic Games provisions.

Why did you decide to get involved in SFS?

Well, a friend told me about Stafford Festival Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ production and I knew I had to audition. Last summer, I’d really enjoyed the challenges presented by the different outdoor venues of a ‘King Lear’ tour, so joining the local cast offered an opportunity I couldn’t ignore. I also think ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is a story that appeals to so many people.

 Do you feel it’s important for the local community to get involved with events like SFS?
Yes I do, I’m a great advocate of people giving something a go. Why not? Stafford Festival Shakespeare and other events like it are great for making new friends, maybe practicing a neglected skill or learning a new one. So far in the preparations for opening night I’ve managed to do all three.

What would you say to local people to not only make them want to watch the show but also be a part of it?

I think that anyone taking a seat to watch a show is very much a part of it. Putting aside the day-to-day cares and believing in the world of the play, well that’s the life blood, the magic of it all. But to get up on the stage gives you something much more. There’s a real satisfaction of crafting a vibrant piece of drama within a creative team like that of Stafford Festival Shakespeare. Nerves and inertia get in the way of so much all the time, but there’s an opportunity to really enjoy yourself here. Why miss out?

What is your next project after Shakespeare?   
I’ve quite a few things on the boil at the moment. I have a run of short, independent films soon after ‘Romeo and Juliet’. There’s extra skills training I’d like to do, and some auditions I’d like to attend. I don’t stand still for very long.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Getting to know Romeo and Juliet

"Stafford Castle is such a wonderfully enchanting setting to put on Shakespeare"

The cast of Romeo and Juliet have been in rehearsals for just over a week and we thought it was time to get to know them better. We met with our very own Romeo and Juliet, Dwane Walcott and Poppy Drayton to ask some quick fire questions.

Dwane Walcott

Poppy Drayton
Stafford Festival Shakespeare is one of the largest open air Shakespeare events in Europe, how do you feel about being part of the event this year?

Dwane: At any one moment I feel a range of emotions from joy to fear…the over riding feeling is one of privilege.

Poppy: I’m hugely excited to be part of this year’s Shakespeare Festival. I can’t think of a more beautiful setting to put on a Shakespeare play!

What made you want to get involved?

P: I’d heard how wonderful the atmosphere is and I thought it’d be such a fantastic event to be part of.

D: Romeo and Juliet is the backbone for many of our most loved stories, so I am excited to explore the themes at the grass-root level, where they began.

Have you ever performed in the cast of a Shakespeare play before?

D: I have been in A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Othello and performed scenes from Love’s Labour’s Lost and Titus Andronicus

P: Yes, I’ve been in several Shakespeare productions both at school and drama school but never had the chance to play Juliet. I feel greatly honoured to play such a well-known and much-loved character of Shakespeare’s.

Shakespeare has written countless well-known plays and sonnets, what is your favourite Shakespeare play?

P:  I have a new favourite every time I’m involved in another production!

D:  Titus Andronicus was the first of Shakespeare’s plays I read for fun and it still vividly sticks in my mind. But can I say I don’t have one?!

What do you think is the feeling/message that stays with the audience after watching Romeo and Juliet?

D: What would you sacrifice for the sake of love?

P:  The message I was left with was that strength of passion can ignite a change in others, even if you, regrettably, aren’t able to watch it take effect.  

The event takes place in a very unique setting, have you performed in the grounds of a castle before or open air?

P: No never, apart from at a fair called Strawberry Fair in Canada when I was 7. I’m expecting this event to be very different though as this time I won’t be dressed from head to toe in a Lycra Canadian flag! Thank goodness!

D: Never! It is going to be an experience no doubt!

How do you think performing at the castle will differ to a traditional theatre venue?

D: I guess it never rains at the theatre! It should hopefully expand the theatrical experience, and give people a night to remember!

P: It is such a wonderfully enchanting setting to put on Shakespeare. It feels wrong in a way to contain Shakespeare’s work within four walls when it’s so full of life and vitality!

Romeo and Juliet opens on June 28th and runs until July 14th at Stafford Castle.