STRATFORD-upon-Avon is getting ready to party for the 453rd birthday of William Shakespeare – the world’s greatest playwright.
Thousands of visitors are expected to line the streets in the town centre to enjoy the annual birthday parade, marching bands and colourful characters – the biggest event on Stratford’s calendar.
This year’s Celebrations weekend also includes the chance to take receipt of a prize golden sonnet. The 10,000 scrolls, introduced for the first time, will be handed out to waiting crowds during the parade, at 9.30am tomorrow, Saturday. There will also be free flags handed out.
From 10am, West Midlands Fire Service Band will entertain the assembling crowds at the top of Bridge Street, ahead of the traditional procession and flag unfurling ceremony.
Led by students of Shakespeare’s own King Edward VI School, brass bands, people in period costume, dignitaries and VIP guests will join community groups and school children, as they make their way through the town centre to Holy Trinity Church to lay flowers on Shakespeare’s grave.
Traditional ceremonies take centre stage, as the procession pauses to witness the handing over of the Quill representing Shakespeare’s legacy, and the unfurling of flags along Bridge Street, High Street and Henley Street.
The celebrations, led by Stratford Town Council and Stratford District Council calls on the support and involvement of several key organisations, including Holy Trinity Church, KES, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Shakespeare’s Schoolroom and Guildhall, the Shakespeare Birthday Company, Stratforward BID and Stratford Town Trust.
The annual Shakespeare Birthday Luncheon will be taking place at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, in Bridgefoot, after the parade.
The RSC is also holding events in and around its theatres, as part of the annual birthday celebrations on Saturday, including the return of two showings of Wondrous Strange, presented by Mimbre, an outdoor acrobatic Shakespeare-themed performance, and a range of free activities for the family.
There will also be live music, poetry reading aboard the chain ferry by RSC actors and a chance to visit two current exhibitions.
Young people from Coventry and Warwickshire have also worked with theatre professionals to bring the RSC’s heritage to life, with special events created for young people.
The Shakespeare Birthday performance will be Julius Caesar in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre at 7.15pm.
Also on Saturday, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust will be hosting more circus fun, featuring professional entertainers from Fool’s Paradise. Shakespeare’s Circus will be compered by American showman Barnum.
A free, family-friendly programme will run all day in Henley Street, outside Shakespeare’s Birthplace, with plenty of opportunities to join in and take part in circus skills workshops.
There will also be song, dance and theatre performed by community groups including Morris dancing and country dancing.
Meanwhile, Stratford residents can enjoy free entry to the Shakespeare houses and a slice of birthday cake.
There will be theatrical promenade performances in the garden at Shakespeare’s New Place; the annual Knights and Nymphs Children’s Garden Party will take place at Hall’s Croft and Harvard House will open its doors to the public free of charge to mark the Bard’s birthday.
Drama critic Michael Billington will present The Shakespeare Birthday Lecture, at the Shakespeare Institute, on Friday, 21st April, from 4pm until 5pm. He will be in conversation with Prof Michael Dobson, of the University of Birmingham.
Visitors are invited to celebrate the first anniversary of Shakespeare’s Schoolroom and Guildhall, which opened its doors, exactly 400 years after the death of its former pupil, William Shakespeare.
The schoolroom will give out hundreds of balloons throughout Saturday, with prizes also to be won.
Timings and Route
The 2017 Birthday Parade will follow a route from the Great Garden, New Place, via Chapel Lane, Waterside, Bridge Street, High Street and Henley Street and then via Bridge Street, High Street, Chapel Street, Church Street and Old Town to Holy Trinity Church
9:35am: Lucky Sonnets’ and hand-held Birthday Celebrations flags are distributed to spectators in the town.
9:45 – 10:30am: West Midlands Fire Service Band followed by The Coventry and Warwickshire Rock Choir entertain assembling crowds in Bridge Street
10:30 – 11:00am: The town’s primary school children, civic dignitaries, diplomats and other invited guests and ‘Mr Shakespeare’ make their way to their positions in Bridge Street and adjoining streets.
11:00 – 11:10am: Handing over of the Quill by ‘Mr Shakespeare’ to KES Head Boy, who holds it aloft; unfurling of the Big Birthday Banner by the Pride of Stratford Young Achiever of the Year, Max Willson; unfurling of the Union Flag by the Lord Lieutenant, then simultaneous unfurling of all other flags followed by the National Anthem. ‘Happy Birthday’ is played, followed by ‘Three Cheers for William Shakespeare’ and launching of confetti cannons along the route.
11:10 – 11:50am: Escorted by marching bands, the various sections of the procession move off towards Holy Trinity Church via Bridge Street, High Street, Chapel Street, Church Street, and Old Town. Spectators wishing to lay flowers join the end of the main Procession as it moves into High Street. The Procession passes through the Church, depositing flowers at Shakespeare’s grave and marking the end of the Procession.
From 12 noon – 4:30pm: Boats will ferry guests attending the annual Shakespeare Birthday Lunch from the church to the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Bridgefoot, for lunch, speeches and the presentation of this year’s Pragnell Award for distinguished contribution to enhancing the legacy of Shakespeare. This is a ticketed event, independently organised.
Throughout the day: Community festivities and street entertainment takes place throughout the town, courtesy of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, the Royal Shakespeare Company and others.
Timings shown are approximate and details were correct at the time of writing, but are subject to change.
The following roads will be closed during the birthday parade and celebrations.
Hard road closures in force from 7.30am to 1.30pm in the following streets along the main Parade route:
Chapel Street, Church Street, Waterside, Sheep Street, Bridge Street, Wood Street, Henley Street, High Street, Church Street, Union Street, Southern Lane and Old Town.
Rolling Road Closures for Chestnut Walk, and College Street.
From 7am until 5pm, road closures remain in place in Henley Street for street entertainment which is being coordinated by Sophie Clausen at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.
Barriers will be in place in all main streets, but there are designated crossing points which are clearly marked and will be under the control of official crossing marshals.
Comprehensive preview to the birthday celebrations in this week’s Herald and coverage and photos in next week’s Herald.
Keep an eye on our website for regular updates and photos throughout the day.
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