NEW YORK — The Royal Shakespeare Company has to be considered a very gracious houseguest. Not only has this English troupe arrived in New York to show off five of its productions with its own actors and costumes, it has also brought its own stage.
The acclaimed company has built and shipped a replica of its home stage in Stratford-upon-Avon and is assembling it inside a 55,000-square-foot hall within an armory on Park Avenue.
“Where else in New York City can you see a theater actually built within another building? It’s amazing,” said Rebecca Robertson, president and executive producer of the Park Avenue Armory at 67th Street.
The company’s 41 actors and 21 musicians will perform five William Shakespeare works — “As You Like It,” “Julius Caesar,” “King Lear,” “Romeo and Juliet” and “The Winter’s Tale” — in repertory for 44 performances from July 6 to Aug. 14.
The traveling 975-seat, steel-framed replica of an Elizabethan-era three-level theater includes a stage that extends into the audience on three sides. The theater is incredibly intimate, with the furthest seat from the edge of the stage only 49 feet away.
“Even the person in the least expensive seat will be very, very close to the action in a way that I think is going to be very special,” said Nigel Redden, director of the Lincoln Center Festival, which is producing the works. “You will really be able to focus on what the actors are doing.”
The RSC built the moveable theater and stage in its workshops and packed it up in 34 different 40-foot shipping containers — along with over 400 costumes, 15 beards, 350 pairs of boots and shoes, and 40 liters of fake blood — for the trip to New York.
Alan Bartlett, the head of construction and technical design, said that overall the company shipped some 400 tons of material across the Atlantic, but the total cost was just $1 million since most of the workers who built the theater were already being paid by the company.
Michael Boyd, artistic director of the company, said the small theater, which curves around the stage, gives the audience an awareness of itself. He hopes ticket-buyers will wave to each other and the actors as they sit down.
“Hamlet talks about holding a mirror up to nature. This theater does that. Humanity can see itself engaged in a quite humble activity — sharing in the same stories about love, about mortality, in the same space, breathing the same air, in real time, growing older together in the same space. That’s what I love about this theater,” he said.