(A Personal Perspective by Bruce Wall)

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The Seed Is Planted
An American Cousin Inspires:-

One of the great joys of living in New York City for the past twelve years has been and continues to be the 'Shakespeare Workout' held in New York on many Saturdays of the year in the friendly, light filled Michael Howard studios perched on a 25th Street tenth floor industrial space between 10.00 a.m. and 2.00 p.m. EST.  The 'Shakespeare Workout' is the brainchild of a wonderful individual who, not content with being a stellar actress herself, manages to inspire all who come within her reach by virtue of her encyclopaedic knowledge of the canon and the weekly delights she continues to bestow upon the ever increasing loyal following of  Workout 'regulars'.   Rare is the individual who can be (a) a leader and (b) a friend to so very many.   One feels privileged to be able to attend this oasis; a respite from just so much madness passing on the streets below.  In Eloise's generous hands the Shakespeare Workout is never intimidating.  It is always stimulating.  Eloise herself, firmly embarked on her act of faith, joyously welcomes each new member who passes through her Saturday morning doors and it is her genius which brings them back and remains root of the Shakespeare Workout's success.  Add in her own warmth and encouragement and one would have to be simple spirited indeed not to understand why it is such a special happening.  The development of a London Shakespeare Workout is, without question, a direct homage to the extraordinary skill and love of this one unique individual and, thus:-

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London Gets It Own Gym for the Bard

It would be a fairy tale, were it not true.  Little did one dare to dream on Sunday, 27th October 1997 that the small enterprise begun within the comfortable confines of Room A at the Convent of St. Vincent de Paul, just off Baker Street, would develop into the joyous multitude of activities which LSW happily embodies today.  I well remember that inaugural Sunday.   I recall swallowing hard as I put some papers out on a sideboard below the large crucifix.  Were the three brave friends who ventured alongside me into this hold to be 'it'?  Blessedly, no.  Twenty three others were awaiting on the stone steps outside.  Sister Brede ("That's Irish for Brigit") had failed to inform the lovely sister on the front gate of the 'happening' and, being  a tad deaf, she did not expect the bell.  'Who are all these strangers on our doorstep?' she must have mused.  Thus, right from the very start there was support from the theatrical community.    In its earliest weeks Time Out chose LSW as its 'Pick of the Week' and we were graced with a considerable amount of radio coverage; from BBC Radio 3, from Virgin, even from London Service Radio which did a recording of the WitSlings segment for a English Language educational broadcast to Russia.  It was at the Convent that so many of the founding LSW fixtures were established.  London was finding its own 'Gym for the Bard'; one with its own distinct accent.  It was here where the first core LSW camp followers - among them, Robyn Moore, Sarah Rice, Eva Fontaine, Max Bonamy, Guy Moore, Louise Morell, Steven McMurray, Adele Lynch - and so many others - were to mingle and match active talents with an ever blossoming group of others.  It was here where LSW was honoured with its first guest, the National Theatre veteran and Voice Coach for, among others, the RSC, Regent's Park and the Globe, Mel Churcher.  Bless Mel for striking out on what has become a truly dazzling path.  At the Convent, LSW's roots were well planted.  I lost my yearning for the celebrations I thought were only to be found in NYC.  Time did not permit such sentimental luxuries any longer.  By April of 1998 when we held our first Shakeathon (Wall to Wall Shakespeare) celebrating the Bard's Birthday it became clear, even after we having moved to the brightly commodious Room One, that LSW had outgrown the nuns' generous hospitality.  There were 147 professional performers taking part in that first Shakeathon.  For those who remember it; it was a very special celebration, beautifully underscored by the multi-talented composer Paul Ayres.  LSW had to move if we was to grow.  But where?  'But WHERE!?!' Those words proceeded to give me urgent nightmares.  I would start from my sleep saying 'But Where?'  LSW's space needed to be as creatively stimulating as the events which in turned it hoped to surround.  That goal had to be accomplished if the community work which remained a crucial part of LSW's original mandate was to be realised.   But where, oh, where, would one find such a place?

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LSW Comes Into Its Own: A Home

It was, yet again, to be the Church, rather than the State, which led to, at least to this occasion, the golden path to our beloved Art Room.  A nun with an interest in amateur dramatics had dropped in to observe one LSW Sunday at the Convent and, after hearing our plight, told me of a Church in Camden, one appropriately entitled 'Our Lady of Hal', which had, she said, a drama group and "therefore might be sympathetic".  Bless her.  I met shortly thereafter with dear Father Dominic and he kindly ushered me into the extraordinary creation which is the 3,500 square Art Room so lovingly carved out from the depths of Arlington Road by its patron saint, Nellie.    'You'll have to meet, Nellie,' the good father continued in his delightful Irish brogue, 'But don't be worried.  She loves Shakespeare.'  Bless the Father.  I called, spoke to Saint Nellie on her mobile and arranged a meeting.   How well I recall coming down those magical stairs for the first time to be treated with the angelic vision of Nellie at the bottom:  Golden indeed.  It was more than a meeting of minds, it was a spiritual revelation.  Like had met Like and the London Shakespeare Workout, now simply, 'LSW', having formed a glorious union, had found a home.  Nellie, you see, the extraordinary actress known professionally as 'Fenella Shepard', christened after LSW guest, Fenella Fielding, does -- blessedly -- LOVE Shakespeare.   At the time of our first meeting around noon on that day in May, Nellie had just finished a run in the West End at the Whitehall Theatre.  However, Nellie is a woman of many dedicated parts:  an incandescent spirit; a gifted writer, a vivid entrepreneur; a courageous creator.   Nellie merges her own joy week after week into forging a vivid education for a vast number of young children aged five to fifteen, many of whom are underprivileged.   Weekly these charges thrill at the prospect of yet again diving into the paints and sculpting materials so plentifully provided by Nellie in the Art Room.   No one could have been more supportive of the vision which is, and continues to grow as LSW.  That LSW has been able to grow at all is in no small measure due to Nellie.  Where would LSW be without her?  I shudder to think.  Nellie, and her mother, Jeanne, are angles on earth; possessing all the graces with none of the airs. 

Within the enticingly creative environment of the Art Room, LSW, much like a child in one of its vivid art classes, has been able to prosper.  Like the art which hangs on its walls, LSW changes every week.  Those walls have now heard some great performances.  Those walls have witnessed some extraordinary potential.  Those walls, by virtue of the laudable list of LSW guests, can even now relate some breathtaking reflections and revelations by many of today's key leaders drawn from both the UK and the world's stages.  Generations have melted: Experiential interchange has remained key.  Without question variety, much as that inspired by the Bard, has been a byword.  A new, forever growing sense of community has merged into a joyous whole. 

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How would LSW honour this?   How better than to fulfil its mission statement and celebrate in the development of the definition of its dream.  LSW began to realise its community outreach mandate.   Today it is impossible to think of the two as separate entities.  One feeds the other.   It is astonishing (certainly to me) to recall that the founding of the LSW: Prison Project was only but two short years ago.  Certainly, current needs have not dimmed, they have been engorged.  'Lose yourself; Lose Your Audience', the old theatrical dictum cries.  Through the LSW Prison Project LSW had, finally, found itself. 

LSW has come home, but, like its walls, it must not fear change, nor challenge.  Much as the theatrical profession itself which we all actively support, actors can never be comfortable for more than a moment.  Like those moments we all, alone, are left to cherish, we are all ephemeral.  It's borrowed time.  That is a great part of the glory of our profession.  That is why we can be seen as being ahead of our time.  After all, we flourished with instability firmly lodged in our so-called career path long before it became fashionable to do so.  When the rest of the world woke up, it was we who had the added advantage -- (Dare I say 'security') -- of having imbibed in the experience of 'pounding pavement'.  We are, and long legitimately may we continue to be, the last great mainstay (outpost, if you prefer) of humanity.  When in the future people will, as they shall, have the most extraordinary technology to entertain, challenge and frustrate them, there will be, in small quarters, I'm certain -- Convent basements, perhaps -- those small bastions of souls gaining notoriety for being able to touch soul upon soul: The Thespians.  It will appear as strange and fantastical as it ever was. 

We may not recognise the theatre in sixty years.  We shouldn't want to.  The young actors who come down the LSW stairs today, will, in part, be the leaders of the theatrical community tomorrow.  LSW's history will depend on them; The guests of tomorrow.  I have every confidence their future is going to be an even brighter one. 

At the risk of being sacrilegious, I'm going to end by quoting Shaw.  It is a piece taken from a speech given by Shaw to a Brighton Art Class in the 1920s.  His words, like those of Shakespeare, are universal:-

'When I die I want to be thoroughly used up.  The harder I work, the more I live.  I rejoice in life for its own sake.  Life is no 'brief candle' for me.  For me it is a glorious torch which I have got hold of for the moment and I want to make it BURN as brightly as possible.'

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Where You Can Work to Make Your Dreams Come True

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