Emily and Laura — “Redesigning Shakespeare for the British Library”

Our Client: The British Library’s “Mission and 2020 Vision,” according to its website, is to “be a leading hub in the global information network, advancing knowledge through our collections, expertise and partnerships, for the benefit of the economy and society and the enrichment of cultural life.” In their latest Shakespeare exhibition, for the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, the Library’s goals were to “celebrate the diverse ways in which Shakespeare’s plays have been reinvented throughout the ages” and to show “why his work is still relevant to us today.”

Our Users: The Library provides resources for a wide range of users, from the beginning student of Shakespeare to the advanced scholar of his works. We identified three main groups of users:

  1. Shakespeare scholars, both British and international: Scholars are primarily interested in access to the British Library’s vast archive of early modern materials, as well as the reading rooms and other scholarly spaces provided by the library. One of the major frustrations of international scholars is procuring enough funding to be able to travel to the Library for their research.
  2. The wider public and tourists: This group is primarily looking for exposure to or an experience of Shakespeare. They would not be interested in access to archives, but in exhibits and other public spaces provided by the Library, as well as online resources devoted to Shakespeare.
  3. British school groups, students and teachers, both primary and secondary: School groups, like tourist groups, seek exposure to and experience of Shakespeare, as well as an introduction to libraries, library resources, and maybe, depending upon the age, to reading or to theatre in general. They are most likely to take advantage of workshops, activities, and online educational resources provided by the Library. A point of frustration for teachers would be trying to make Shakespeare relevant to their students, and for students, seeing Shakespeare as relevant to their everyday lives.

The Problem: The British Library is trying to cater to a wide range of users with a wide range of knowledge bases, interests, and frustrations about Shakespeare. How can we bring all these groups together?

Our Goals:

  1. To promote academic accessibility to Shakespeare for all users.
  2. To promote accessibility to the British Library.
  3. To make Shakespeare relevant to all users.
  4. To foster exchange between students, teachers, scholars, and the wider public.
  5. To enrich cultural life through the showcase of Shakespeare as an international literary phenomenon.

Our Solution: BardCon.

Based on the popularity of San Diego’s International ComicCon, many organizations and enterprises have adopted the convention style to promote their own interests, such as LeakyCon (Harry Potter franchise) and the relatively new BroadwayCon (musical theatre). So why not a convention that celebrates the Bard of Avon? Following the traditional style of comic-conventions, BardCon would offer a place for Shakespeareans of all ages and levels of expertise to meet and exchange. BardCon would be a multi-day event featuring a series of activities designed for our three groups of users, keeping as our main goals to make Shakespeare relevant and to promote the British Library.

Program: BardCon will last three and a half days, starting with registration on Wednesday afternoon and concluding on Saturday evening, leaving Sunday for our international participants to be able to return home. As for the events, keeping in mind that we are targeting different user groups, BardCon will offer a variety of activities to fulfill each group’s particular needs, as well as spaces that will allow the integration of the different groups.

  1. Scholars—As there are a wide variety of academic conferences available for scholars, we propose to offer partially funded grants from the British Library to encourage scholarly participation in BardCon. These grants will give scholars a certain amount of research time at the British Library’s facilities in exchange for their contribution to BardCon. This would mean that scholars, mostly younger scholars, would contribute to the convention by giving talks to some of the other user groups with the certainty that they will receive research aid for their own projects. Other events proposed for this group are:
  • 3MT forums for doctoral candidates in Shakespearean studies, with judges and cash prizes
  • Seminars, roundtables, and workshop meetings
  • Panels
  • Library tours and/or resource workshops
  • Book talks and/or lectures
  1. School groups, students and teachers—in order to expose these young students to both Shakespeare and the resources at the British Library, BardCon will offer:
  • Library tours
  • Theatrical performances
  • Film screenings
  • Interactive workshops: performance workshops with actors, text-based workshops with teachers or scholars, printing press and editorial workshops with the Library
  • TED talks about Shakespeare, led by scholars
  • Trivia competitions for those students already exposed to Shakespeare’s works
  1. Wider public and tourists—the general public will go to BardCon mostly for the spectacle of it and to visit the library itself. For them, we propose:
  • A cosplay competition, in the ComicCon style, with judges and prizes
  • Library tours and exhibits
  • Panels with actors, scholars, and Shakespeare creators (such as the creators of Kill Shakespeare)
  1. Integration events—The main event will be the Shakespeare Ball. This ball will take place Friday night. We would invite all our guests to come dressed up in period gowns to enjoy a night of food and dancing to live music. In addition to this, some other spaces for interchange are:
  • A vendor room with a variety of stands selling books, comics, films, souvenirs, posters, and other things.
  • Different exhibits
  • Autograph and picture sections with guest writers and actors

Access and funding: Different access packages will be offered. Scholars can either participate in the convention by applying for a grant or by paying a flat conference registration fee. School groups will pay a modest fee depending on the number of students per group and the activity they wish to attend. The general public are welcome to buy passes for one day or for the whole conference if they wish. The Shakespeare Ball will be treated as a separate event, and all groups of users would have to buy a pass for it. In regards to funding, we will cover some of the costs in the same fashion that comic conventions tend to do:

  1. Selling passes
  2. Charging a small fee to those interested in participating in the cosplay competitions
  3. Charging vendors who wish to have a stand
  4. Charging the public for meet and greets, getting autographs and/or pictures with actors
  5. Getting sponsors and donators