The Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of the playwright and poet, was established in 1879 with its own permanent troupe of professional actors. Performances here often feature major stars in the regular Shakespearean productions and high-caliber contemporary plays.
Although attending a performance is highly recommended, a backstage tour offers a fascinating introduction to the history of the theater and the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), as well as giving you an insider's view of the inner-workings of the theater. You'll get a sense of how much goes on in preparation for and during a production, giving you a deeper layer of understanding prior to watching a live performance.
The hour-long, small-group tour begins in the theater’s entrance, where you meet your guide. You're then told a little about the theater's redevelopment, which concluded with the opening of a new performance space in 2010. You then head upstairs to see sections of the theater walls that combine elements of the previous theater on the site and the new.
You discover how the building's architecture affects acoustics as well as the audience experience. You also learn how the new design better reflects the theater conditions audiences would have experienced in Shakespeare's time In the restaurant you can even see three of the old theater seats left hanging in the wall, much further from the stage than the current arrangement.
Next, you head backstage to see behind the scenes in parts of the theater not usually accessible to the public. Visit the dressing rooms, the wardrobe department and the wig-making workshop as well as more technical areas such as the lighting booths, audio description room and direction booths.
In each you learn a little about the work done there and how it contributes to the process of theater-making. You'll gain a basic understanding of the work of the production director who controls the show and get a sense of the precise timings needed for a successful performance.
Then it's off to the main theater, which seats an audience of over 1,000 around three sides of the refurbished stage. After hearing a little about its design and taking a look around you proceed to the adjacent Swan Theatre, a smaller 'in-the-round' performance space based on Elizabethan designs.
As you stroll around the theater your guide's expert knowledge and passion brings the theater and its inner workings to life. Along the way you'll learn about the origins of the RSC, the history of the successive theater buildings which have stood on this site, and about some of the famous players who have graced its stage.