Happy Birthday, William Shakespeare! Busy times behind the scenes as the Parade comes to town
Shakespeare’s 453rd Birthday Parade will be the focus of festivities on the morning of 22 April 2017, entertaining crowds with a colourful, musical spectacle that winds its way through town centre streets in honour of Stratford-upon-Avon’s celebrated son, William Shakespeare. But for the Parade to run like clockwork, planning behind the scenes must start months in advance.
Every year, hundreds of people take part in the procession which begins shortly after 10 o’clock and continues until midday when it reaches Holy Trinity Church. All walks of life are represented – from local community groups and schoolchildren to civic dignitaries and famous and learned folk from literary and theatrical arenas around the world. Marching bands keep everyone moving along; the Quill representing Shakespeare’s legacy is held aloft and flags are unfurled amid cheers for the Bard on his Birthday.
It all appears seamless, but this success comes down to the detailed organisation of every operational aspect of the event, coordinated each year by Stratford-upon-Avon Town Council. Cllr Juliet Short, Mayor of Stratford-upon-Avon said: “We are always delighted when it’s clear that the dedication and hard work needed to stage a successful event has paid off. We depend on the cooperation and goodwill of so many people throughout the community. We all deserve to indulge in a little glow of satisfaction when the crowds leave with smiles on their faces.”
The tasks to be managed are many and varied, including inviting and briefing distinguished guests, recruiting and preparing around 35 stewards who direct the crowds and participants, organising hundreds of people representing community groups in the procession, contacting businesses and other bodies wishing to purchase a flag position along the route, liaising with media to ensure coverage, keeping spectators safe and making sure they have flags to wave, sprigs of rosemary to wear, sonnets to unroll and, this year, prizes to win.
Town Clerk, Sarah Summers, said: “A dress rehearsal before the big day is logistically impossible, but expertise and experience combine to bring the Parade to fruition on time and in order. This year, the procession will follow the traditional route through the town centre, starting from the Great Garden at New Place around 10.30am.
“Volunteers will be distributing hand-held birthday flags and 10,000 Sonnet Scrolls, each individually rolled and sealed, to the crowds assembling along the route from 9.30 in the morning. It will be exciting to hear who has been lucky enough to receive our wonderful ‘Golden Sonnet’ – and there will be other lucky winners too.
“We’re delighted to have musical entertainment from West Midlands Fire Service Band and also from Coventry and Warwickshire Rock Choir as the spectators gather.
“We have a newly discovered ‘Mr Shakespeare’ this year who will be collecting the Quill from Shakespeare’s Birthplace and carrying it along Henley Street to meet the main procession. In time honoured fashion, he will hand over the Quill to the Head Boy of King Edward’s School – the post is held this year by Oliver Gardner – as the traditional ceremonies commence at 11 o’clock.”
The traditional placing of the commemorative wreath will be followed by the unfurling of the Big Birthday Banner and the Unfurling of Flags along Bridge Street, High Street and Henley Street. The Beadle and Town Criers from neighbouring towns call for ‘Three Cheers for William Shakespeare’ as cannon streamers shower the crowds. The Parade will move off towards Holy Trinity Church at about 11.20, accompanied by the ATC Band, Coventry Corps of Drums and the West Midlands Fire Service Band. Participants and members of the public wishing to lay floral tributes join the procession as it makes its way along High Street, Church Street and Old Town.
As midday approaches and the last of the well-wishers file into church past the Bard’s final resting place, the town centre will already be returning to normal as roads open to traffic and crowd barriers are packed away. Another Birthday Parade successfully concluded!
Sarah Summers continues: “The team is already working to build on the foundations of our success with ambitious plans for a new and bigger event in 2018. We hope to introduce carnival floats and walking literary pageants which will process through town. It promises to be a great weekend which should have something in store for everyone. We’ll be unveiling more detail in the coming months!”
The Shakespeare’s Celebrations initiative, led by Stratford-upon-Avon Town Council and Stratford-on-Avon District Council calls on the support and involvement of several key organisations working to make the Birthday festivities sustainable for future generations to enjoy. Alan Haigh, who is responsible for staging the Birthday Luncheon, Holy Trinity Church, King Edward VI School, The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Stratforward BID and Stratford Town Trust all contribute in various ways. The result is a whole weekend of family entertainment and activities, many of them outdoors and most of them free of charge.
To find out more about the Birthday Parade, and what’s on where throughout Shakespeare’s Celebrations visit www.shakespearescelebrations.com