There are national Shakespeare Associations all around the world, but until 2002 there was no British Shakespeare Association.
In February that year, a group of academics, teachers, theatre practitioners and enthusiasts met in a packed hall at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon to discuss founding a British Shakespeare Association. There was general agreement that the BSA should be an association which brought together different communities with a professional (and non-professional) interest in Shakespeare.
The first major BSA international conference was held in September 2003 at De Monfort University in Leicester. The De Monfort team established a format that the current conference still follows: a mixture of keynote lectures by distinguished Shakespeareans, seminars and paper sessions, and workshops for actors and teachers. The mix of speakers exemplified the BSA’s mission: Stanley Wells, Paul Edmondson and Catherine Belsey gave the conference its academic underpinning, whilst writer Andrew Davies, actor Sam West and director Michael Bogdanov brought in other Shakespearean communities. Sam West’s workshop was one of the conference’s highlights: he brought with him two actors from the RSC, one of whom was David Tennant, then several years away from being a household name.
The next conference was held in Newcastle two years later, establishing a pattern of biennial conferences. In that time, the BSA established a membership structure and developed with Routledge proposals for a journal, called simply Shakespeare. By 2007, when the conference moved to Warwick, the executive board had agreed to become a charitable company limited by guarantee. This meant applying directly to the Secretary of State, as ‘British’ is a controlled word. We sought recommendations from across the country and received written endorsements from a range of people including Dame Judi Dench, Stanley Wells at the Birthplace Trust and Michael Boyd at the RSC.
THE BSA TODAY
Since 2007, we have held conferences at King’s College and Shakespeare’s Globe in London and in 2012 we celebrated the 10th anniversary of the founding of the BSA with a major international conference at Lancaster University. The most recent BSA conference were held at Queen’s College Belfast in 2018, Swansea University in 2019, and the a virtual conference in 2021, hosted by the BSA Board’s Conference Committee. As well as major conferences, we have held many smaller events around the United Kingdom, including seminars and conferences in Belfast, Stirling, and Bangor, as well as regular events in Stratford at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.
The BSA’s work is now split between four committees. The Events Committee makes sure that every BSA event fulfils the mission of the BSA to bring together different communities of Shakespeareans. Our Education Committee is responsible for delivering the BSA’s charitable object, which is to educate the general public about Shakespeare and his works. This committee produces Teaching Shakespeare, the country’s leading magazine about Shakespeare pedagogy, and contributes education and pedagogy content to the BSA. The Performance and Media Committee is responsible for facilitating dialogue between scholars, practitioners, and creatives. Finally, the Awards Committee is responsible for conferring honorary fellowships on distinguished Shakespeareans (whether academics or practitioners) who have made a significant contribution to the public understanding of Shakespeare and innovations in performance. They are only able to make three such awards every year (two Honorary Fellows and one Innovation Award). All four committees report to the Board of Trustees, which oversees the governance of the BSA, including its strategic direction and its finances.