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Shakespeare's Birthday Celebrations expected to remain virtual in 2021

Stratford’s annual Shakespeare Celebrations are likely to remain largely virtual this year after organisers conceded April may be too soon to hold such a large gathering in the town.

The event, which is organised by Stratford Town Council, regularly attracts thousands of visitors to Stratford in normal times.

The celebrations were the focus of huge international attention in 2016 on the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death, with Royals and stars of stage and screen visiting the town.

It has been scaled back somewhat since that special year and with the pandemic sweeping the nation last Spring, the decision was quickly taken to move the event online in 2020 with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and RSC taking part.

During a meeting at Stratford Town Council last week, members of the Civic, Heritage and Events Committee, councillors discussed what elements of the celebrations could be possible this year.

The consensus seemed to be that parts of this year’s celebrations will likely be broadcast online and could include coverage of the laying of flowers at Shakespeare’s grave and a pre-recorded video of Mr Shakespeare leaving the Birthplace and witnessing readings around the town.

It’’s highly unlikely that the large formal parade, a focal part of celebrations in years past, go ahead this time around.

One positive about this years celebrations are that they probably won’t bring with them the costs involved in a normal year, with security, traffic management and first aid all not needed.

However there was a growing willingness that Stratford Town Centre should physically mark the celebrations in some way, with the decoration of Bridge Street one option being looked at.

The council also agreed that the flagpoles in Bridge Street would still be installed this year with Cllr Jenny Fradgley arguing that it would help raise the morale of the town.

Depending on what restrictions may be in place, the council may invite businesses to decorate their windows.

Cllr Richard Voss said: “By the time we get around to April shops and restaurants may be able to re-open again, if we don’t prepare to do something ie. decorate the town as some kind of an indication that we’re open, we will be seen as being closed.”

Another idea suggested was that this year’s event could be moved to Friday 23rd April instead of taking place on the Saturday.

This would allow the celebrations to actually take place on Shakespeare’s Birthday, while some councillors suggested that such a move would reduce the possibility of crowds gathering in the town centre.

Stratford mayor Cllr Tony Jackson said: "Sadly, the new Covid restrictions mean that we must start planning for a virtual celebration of Shakespeare's Birthday. We will be as flexible and innovative as possible within the guidelines and will do everything we can to ensure a fitting tribute to the 'Bard'."

The exact details of this year’s event will be ironed out closer to April.

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