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Stratford-upon-Avon coming to New York city via Royal Shakespeare Company

February 8, 2010 |  1:00 pm

Armory New Yorkers are familiar with Shakespeare in the Park, but come July 2011, there will be a new twist on the Bard: Shakespeare at the Armory. During a six-week residency, the Royal Shakespeare Company will perform five plays in repertory in a specially constructed theater within the Park Avenue Armory’s 55,000-square-foot Drill Hall. The 44-member ensemble will perform “Antony and Cleopatra,” “As You Like It,” “Julius Caesar,” “King Lear” and “Romeo and Juliet.”

After seeking in vain for a local theater that could reproduce the design and layout of the RSC’s intimate, thrust-stage Courtyard Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, “we opted to build a full-scale replica,” Lincoln Center Festival director Nigel Redden explained.

The generous residency (45 performances) represents a partnership between the Lincoln Center Festival and the Armory, in association with Ohio State University, which will contribute to the residency’s educational outreach component.

During Monday morning's announcement at Alice Tully Hall, Redden said that Michael Boyd – RSC’s artistic director since 2003 – has “rejuvenated” the venerable theater troupe, with actors making a three-year commitment to work together as a repertory ensemble. Redden had sought to import the first such ensemble, which performed all eight History Plays during 2007 and 2008 – first at the RSC’s Stratford-upon-Avon base, then in London. Now, with the Armory taking a newly active role as a presenter, arrangements are in place to bring Boyd’s second ensemble, which began working together last year, to New York.

The Armory, which opened in 1881, offers one of the city’s largest unobstructed spaces. Lincoln Center Festival has offered large-scale productions within Drill Hall several times – notably a vast 2008 production of Bernd Zimmermann’s opera “Die Soldaten.” But for the RSC residency, the Armory will have a new role as co-presenter. It will take two weeks to construct the 930-seat, three-level auditorium within the hall. The engagement will mark the first time the RSC has performed such an extensive repertory in this country.

-- Susan Reiter

Photo: Drill Hall at the Armory. Credit: Elliott Kaufman