Knowledge Matters blog

18 August 2016

Nudity, trees and biscuits: how we made Shakespeare in Ten Acts

SMALLER - AhumanskullonloanfromtheVAphotobyClareKendallZoë Wilcox, lead curator of Shakespeare in Ten Acts, adjusts a human skull given to Sarah Bernhardt by Victor Hugo. On loan from the V&A. Photo by Clare Kendall.

Legendary Shakespeare director Sir Peter Brook described it as ‘the best exhibition I have ever been to’ while the Times Literary Supplement hailed it as ‘a show of shows’. Our major exhibition, Shakespeare in Ten Acts, now in its final few weeks, has been praised by reviewers and visitors alike – but how does the Library set about staging such a spectacular and wide-ranging display? Our Exhibitions Manager, Alex Goddard, takes you behind the scenes.

  SMALLER - corrected Shakespeare-infographic

How long did it take to prepare this exhibition?

Like other exhibitions we have staged, preparations began nearly four years ago to bring Shakespeare in Ten Acts to life. Our exhibitions and interpretation teams start to meet curators around 18-24 months before an exhibition opens, to pull together the storyline and finalise the object list.

How do you choose the themes of the exhibition?

Curators and the Interpretation Manager develop a scoping brief that gives an overview of the exhibition, outlines the different sections and star items, and provides information about the objectives of the exhibition, its messages and its target audiences. They also work together to produce all of the exhibition text, the audio-visual elements and the imagery.

We work with colleagues in Conservation to assess all items to go on display and make arrangements for the mounting and framing of all objects.

Can you tell us how the look and feel of the gallery came to life?

We approached several companies who then worked on a design and presented their ideas. We then appointed a design agency about a year before the exhibition opened.

The design for Shakespeare in Ten Acts incorporated a visually stunning representation of the shipwreck from The Tempest and Ariel’s appearance as a harpy in Act 3, Scene 3 of the same play – this clip shows them being installed.

What were the challenges?

There was a large amount of content, including over 230 items, lots of audio and video, a number of commissions and an ambitious design. We work to tight budgets and deadlines, but every project is exciting and unique and I personally love the combination of working with 2D and 3D designers, as well as getting to know the content of the exhibition.

What do you like most about putting together an exhibition?

One of my favourite highlights is getting to look at and handle the fascinating objects that are featured like Shakespeare’s First Folio – a rare and extraordinary privilege!

As many of the items in the exhibition are loans, this may be your only opportunity to see them side-by-side, telling the story of ten of the most iconic performances of Shakespeare. You have until 6 September – catch it while you can!

Alexandra Goddard

Exhibitions Manager

Shakespeare in Ten Acts continues at the British Library at St Pancras until Tuesday 6 September, 2016.