U. of Michigan bets on slate of Bard-a-thons

$4 mil spent on Shakespeare weekenders

Twelve hours of Shakespeare in a two-day sitting doesn’t come cheaply.

In March 2001, Britain’s Royal Shakespeare Co. and the U. of Michigan will join to present two marathon weekends of the Bard’s history plays “Henry VI” parts one, two and three, as well as “Richard III,” at a cost of “well over $2 million dollars,” said U. of Michigan president Lee Bollinger. Kenneth C. Fischer, president of the university’s musical society, put the cost nearer $4 million when salaries, transportation from the U.K. and housing of the 53-member company are included.

The RSC’s production of Shakespeare’s history plays will be the first project in the company’s new five-year partnership with the university and its musical society. The four plays, to be directed by RSC associate director Michael Boyd, will be performed in Ann Arbor next year in an American next exclusive, prior to a London premiere.

“The plays don’t really make sense unless you do them as a four-act play — a very long four-act play,” said Boyd. The director has planned an unusual performing schedule: “Henry VI,” part one, on the morning of Saturday, March 10; part two in the afternoon; and part three that evening. “Richard III” is scheduled for Sunday afternoon.

The cycle will be repeated a week later, on March 17 and 18. All performances take place at the university’s 1,400-seat Power Center.

‘Ambitious project’

Boyd called the 12-hour cycle “a lovely, mad, ambitious project.” When the productions travel to London, audiences there will have the choice of seeing the cycle over two days or four days.

Bollinger said he originally thought 12 hours of Shakespeare in two days overwrought, but a recent trip to the Telluride Film Festival convinced him otherwise. “I never thought I could watch 10 films in one day, but I thoroughly enjoyed it,” said the university president.

As for that $2 million-$4 million budget, he remarked, “Universities are the Medicis of our time.” There will be extensive fund-raising, with the U. of Michigan underwriting the project. “The financial structure is not refined as of yet,” said Bollinger, “but it is not a problem. This will happen.”

Other projects in the five-year partnership between the RSC and the university were not announced.

The RSC is in residence at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, where the company is performing Boyd’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

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