Friday, 9 July 2010

Associate artist Ben Adams pauses to collect his thoughts - and his breath - after having taken The Great Shakespearean Workout 2010 to a scorching Glastonbury Festival.


It’s a tough life at times. For the last three years, I’ve been forced to go to the Glastonbury Festival to perform a variety of Shakespearean scenes and characters while fitting in some music here and there, and I always get a free ticket. I know, how do I cope?

Glastonbury 2010 was the fortieth anniversary of the festival and 1623’s fourth year of taking Shakespeare to the world's largest celebration of contemporary performing arts. This year, we took The Great Shakespearean Workout 2010 to entice as many festival goers as possible into a high-energy, Troilus-and-Cressida-inspired fitness class. This struck me as no mean feat, as I couldn’t imagine that a great many of your Glasto-goers would navigate the huge site - most probably suffering from a hangover and a case of tent neck - before suddenly get the urge to do a workout using Shakespearean verse for the beat. 

Oh, how wrong I was!

Now enough of this introductory preamble aimed at drawing you in and thinking ‘my word, Ben Adams was wrong? How could this be?’ I shall take you through the four days that made up my fourth Glastonbury experience. It began early on Thursday morning (24 June) and I would be taking a rather roundabout route to Somerset: Derby to Nottingham to Sheffield to Derby to Glastonbury. No, we were not the victims of a malevolent sat nav; rather, we had two workouts to run before we even hit the festival. The first was at Nottingham Trent University for sports teachers across the county and the second was in Sheffield as part of a 24-hour Shakespeare marathon; both workouts were successful and engaged our participants, despite a rather unwelcomed interruption from a bearded politician in Sheffield.

We arrived at Glastonbury late on Thursday night and began our trek to the camp. This wasn’t easy. There were four of us with what can only be described as seven people's worth of luggage; it totally ruined my romantic Fellowship of the Ring image of us, silhouetted as we topped a precipice while the last burnt orange rays from the sinking sun were pulled down behind Glastonbury Tor. Instead, we were four huffing-and-puffing, over-laden, playing-human-Buckaroo pack horses who had to stop every two or three minutes to manoeuvre bags, cases and workout equipment. 

I’d only ever arrived at Glastonbury in the day time before, so approaching the site at night was a completely new experience. As we rounded a corner and the sprawling 'city' that appears for a week each year met me, hundreds of twinkling lights illuminated the ground below, the sound of laughter and music drifted up and I took a deep breath to complete the moment and in a way it did; I was stood right by some toilets. If you’ve never smelled Glastonbury toilets then you’re lucky, it is an experience that stays with you. Always. 

The rest of the night played out in a familiar way as we arrived at the campsite, dumped our cumbersome trappings and set off to meet the rest of our crew. We rendezvoused at the Stone Circle and the team was complete. Together, we were The Workout Eight, although the maniacal glee of Beck [Rebecca Gadsby, associate artist] as she twirled a flaming candle around meant that we might soon become The Workout Seven.

Friday morning came with the inevitable stiffness of the first night in a tent and also the thought that I was going to die. The sun had risen and was pounding my tent with heat that had magnified and now was in danger of cooking me alive. The only thought that entered my head as I scrambled to open the flaps to let some air in - so that I was able to breathe once more - was that my tent must have been made of some space-age material for it to be able to trap and intensify heat so well. This was the beginning of the sun’s barrage that would continue for the next four days. I know that we are never happy: it rains and we moan; it’s sunny and we moan. Come rain or shine, Glastonbury is relentless in its weather. 

We all perused our Glasto Guides and planned which acts we were going to see around the workout times that we had been given prior to our arrival; but, as with Glastonbury every year, our show times changed. Our first workout was moved from midday to late afternoon and the second session was moved to 7.30pm; this caused all of us to flick feverishly through our guides to assess how our musical plans had been affected. I was mortified to realise that I would no longer be able to sample the folk music delights of a hotly tipped killer set from Mumford and Sons. However, there was a silver lining as the original time for the first show would have meant that we would have been doing the workout when the sun was at its zenith and we may possibly have died whilst box-stepping and brandishing the venomed vengeance that rode upon our swords!

The first day of workouts (Friday) went well and a few Glasto-ites joined in, at times only momentarily due to inebriation. The blistering heat made it more of a challenge and as we entered in the running, jumping, dipping section towards the end of the workout, Kat [Katherine Glenn, associate artist] - who was leading - looked on with a smug grin as we toiled beneath the scorching sun. Friday night saw us splitting into factions, all of whom wanted to see different bands. I myself opted for the sing-a-long fest that was the Bootleg Beatles and the only down side was leaping straight into a rather suspect quagmire that had spread itself around the toilets. The less said about that the better, though.

Oh yeah, the showers stopped working as well. I wasn’t going to shower anyway, but now I didn’t have a choice. In that heat, the site was going to get a little ripe.

Saturday morning saw us performing the first workout of the day on the big BBC Village Screen alongside some Glasto-ites who saw the camera and an opportunity to spot themselves gurning on the screen, on a larger scale than that they were regularly able to do. We had a number of willing volunteers wanting to join either the Trojan or Greek armies, yet at one point I did find myself as a lone Trojan facing off against a whole army of Greeks. Some people just can’t hack the pace, I guess, even wannabe Trojans.

We completed two more workouts that day in Bella's Field. The heat was baking and we all started to feel the effects of the relentless sun. I’d never drunk so much water. I began to feel the initial effects of sun stroke, although sun ‘stroke’ creates a rather gentle image and I don’t think that it goes far enough to describe the effects that the sun was having; sun slap, or sun kick-in-the-face might be more accurate. Yet we all gave 100% to each workout. My competitive streak would kick in when we were split into the two armies and I would end up yelling and shaking my fist at my ‘opponents’.

That evening, after having watched a phenomenal set by Muse and squawking along to the Knights of Cydonia, I retired to my pad and had an early night; it was 1.30am. That’s the thing about Glastonbury: the normal rules of life no longer apply; if you see someone unconscious on the floor you leave them, a healthy meal is if you have a wilted lettuce leaf on your burger and turning in at 1.30am means that you've had an early night.

On Sunday morning, I woke refreshed and raring to go for our first workout of the day. Once again, we were live on the BBC Village Screen but not before I had a wicked strength coffee, which helped me to ride on a caffeine wave. That was one battle, but my Trojans and I came out on top ... and this was probably the only time that I was able to stay in time with the box step. Damn that insufferable box step!

Between the morning workout and the two later sessions, I spent the afternoon taking in some more bands and weighing up either to watch the football or going to see Slash. I opted for the latter and was rather glad of it when I found out the result later. Chris [Christopher Lydon, associate artist], Stu [Stuart Lydon, associate artist] and I did get to see the band with the best name at the festival: ‘The Phenomenal Hand Clap Band’. They’re my new favourite band.

The final two workouts - again, in Bella's Field in the late afternoon and early evening - were definitely my favourite of the whole weekend. Numerous people got involved and really went with it. My Trojan army had strength and honour, way more than those whiney Greeks!

After the final workout, it seemed that our bodies were now allowing us to feel the effects of - what for some of us was - ten workouts in four days. Feet were aching, thighs were screaming and shoulders creaked, yet that didn’t stop Jamie [Brown, associate artist], Chris and Kat from devising a whole new dance routine from the workout moves in the Green Room Bar that night. It’s amazing what beer can do.

Monday arrived and we packed up what had been our homes for what felt like much longer than four days and went our separate ways, some beginning our trek back to the car park and the others anticipating the lengthy exodus from the campsite in the car. So that had been Glasto 2010. We were sun tanned/burned (my neck has subsequently peeled off) and - aching, covered in dust and smelling like a foot - we rejoined the normal world. It was a great Glasto - the best one so far - and Ben [Spiller, artistic director] is already planning next year.

It’s a hard job, but someone's got to do it.

For more information on The Great Shakespearean Workout 2010 and to find out how you can take part, please visit


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