January 14, Tuesday: Stratford-upon-Avon

Allison Richter, first-year alto
Major: vocal performance

Another wonderful day in paradise!  Jordan Stammers and I (she is my roommie) woke up to a great view of Coventry, with sunshine, which is rare in England at this time of year.  In the hotel restaurant we fortified ourselves with a full English breakfast, which never disappoints, and were in the coach and on our way by 9:00.  

Today’s schedule was a little different for us as a choir because, instead of having an evening concert, our performance today was at noon. But prior to our rehearsal and concert we had time to learn more about Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon, the town of his birth and burial.  We were dropped off near the city center and followed Anita, our tour guide, to visit Shakespeare’s birthplace. At first I had imagined his birthplace to be a cottage somewhere in the English countryside, but I was astonished as I realized that his birthplace was right there near the center of the city, wedged a few streets away between shops and streets.  We learned that his father was a glovemaker and half of the Shakespeare house consisted of the shop and the other of the family’s living quarters.  Our tour of Shakespeare’s birthplace was preceded by a visit to the Shakespeare Center, which, in addition to functioning as a visitor center, is also a research center for scholars from all over the world.

The interpreters at the birthplace shared lots of interesting information not only about Shakespeare but about Tudor life in general.  One of the interpreters was a fine actor who invited us to request any bit of Shakespeare we wanted to hear.  His performance was terrific! One even recited a verse of Shakespeare for us!  It was also interesting to learn that in his later years, when he returned to Stratford, after a hugely successful career as an actor  and playwright, Shakespeare  built a new house (now gone) and turned the house of his youth into a pub, called the Swan and Maidenhead.

We then headed for Holy Trinity Church, the site of Shakespeare’s grave (and the church in which he was baptized and, perhaps, was married).  It was also the location of our concert.  After the tour had commenced, it was time for our concert. The medieval church itself was very beautiful, and the sunshine streaming in through the clerestory windows created a wonderful glow in the chancel.  Our audience was enthusiastic about our performance and many talked with us afterward.  One audience member was Karen Nichols, a 1977 Drake alumna.  We received very positive comments from her, her husband (also an Iowan who is studying for a Ph.D. in Shakespeare Studies), and many others. One older woman who was talking to us told us we were better than the choirs she listened to on the BBC. What an honor to get such a compliment!

Following the concert we had time to explore Stratford.   A small group of us were starving at that point so we headed to a famous Stratford pub, the Dirty Duck/Black Swan, which is a favorite of the actors of the Royal Shakespeare Company.  My fellow singers ordered fish and chips, and I ordered the macaroni and cheese (which is not as authentic, I know, but was VERY good).  After eating there, we took a walk along the river Avon.

Next, our group visited the Royal Shakespeare Company Centre ,where many Shakespearean plays have been performed over the years. We went on a gallery tour, where we viewed photos of famous actors who had performed as part of the Company. Among them were Kiera Knightley, Jude Law, Daniel Radcliffe, and Daniel Craig. Very neat!

After our afternoon exploration of Stratford we returned to our hotel in Coventry. We had another great buffet-style dinner and afterward talked about our plan for tomorrow’s rehearsal and performance in Coventry Cathedral.  Each section of the choir gathered to discuss and rehearse details we want to sing with even greater artistry at our remaining performances.  England has been a blast so far and this really is the trip of a lifetime.  

Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon

Shakespeare's burial site in the church

The Avon River

Free time to discover the town
The back of Shakespeare's birth home

Dinner back in Coventry

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing information about your trip. You are so fortunate to be able to participate in such a great experience.