Simon Reade Launches Dear Mr. Shakespeare at The Folger, introduced by Ken Ludwig

On Friday, November 20, the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., hosted a launch for Simon Reade’s new book, Dear Mr. Shakespeare. Ken Ludwig, a member of the Board of Governors of the Folger Shakespeare Library, was on hand to introduce his friend.

About the Book:

What if Shakespeare had to deal with the prejudices of today’s producers? What if he had to circumnavigate the same rapids of bureaucracy, financial constraints, political correctness, forced rewrites, miscasting, rejections, putdowns and ‘friendly advice’ that the writers of today encounter? Dear Mr. Shakespeare is written as a series of fictional and frequently humorous letters, notes, and e-mails from agents, theatre producers, and directors in reply to emerging the Elizabethan playwright’s imagined submissions of the most famous plays in the English language. Inspired by his tenure as Literary Manager at the Royal Shakespeare Company, Simon Reade has produced a sharp and novel companion to Shakespeare for aficionados, playwrights, actors, academics and audiences alike.

Ken’s Introduction of Simon at the Book Launch

The English have an odd and almost exclusive way of producing autodidacts – people who are self-taught and pick up new skills seemingly instantly and well. They’re like Arnold Schwartzenneger in the Terminator movies. If they touch it, they can imitate it.

Samuel Johnson is an example of this – and so it my very dear friend Simon Reade. I never got to meet Samuel Johnson, alas, but I can tell you from close-hand observation that Simon Reade is an amazing scholar, editor, artistic administrator, director, writer and producer.

Simon read English at Exeter University and from there became Literary Manager of the Gate Theatre. Not a bad first job. From there he became the Literary Manager and Dramaturg of the Royal Shakespeare Company from 1997-2001. Not a bad second job.

It was while he was at the RSC that Simon and I first met. It was through Simon that the RSC commissioned my play Shakespeare in Hollywood, and we have been friends and colleagues ever since. While at the RSC Simon advised on the famous History Play Cycle, This England, as well as dozens of other hits for the company.

He then became Artistic Director of Bristol Old Vic, one the of the most distinguished theatres in the English-speaking world, and it was here that he began directing in earnest. His production of Private Peaceful, which he also adapted from the novel my Michael Morpurgo, has found continued success around the world, and my family and I caught up with it this summer at the Edinburgh Festival – so I can tell you first hand that it was masterful.

Simon’s book adaptations for the stage soon started appearing all over the place: He adapted Philip Pullman’s Scarecrow and His Servants, Pullman’s Alladin and The Enchanted Lamp, as well as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Ted Hughes’ Tales From Ovid (which was a huge hit for the Young Vic in London) and Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. His latest adaptation, of Pride and Prejudice, is now criss-crossing the UK in a national tour starring Susan Hamphsire.

After Bristol, Simon became Associate Producer for Theatre Royal Bath Productions, and he is now the producer for a group in London called Filter.

One day about a year ago, Simon called me and said “Guess what? Oberon Books wants me to write a book about Shakespeare and they want it in less than a year.” Now most of us might be just a teensy bit daunted by the idea of sitting down and writing an entire book about Shakespeare with a deadline only a few months away. But the next thing I knew, chapters were flying into my computer – and I got to read this extraordinary book as it developed.

Simon’s going to read from it, so I needn’t say much about it – except that I think it’s one of the freshest, wisest, cheekiest, most erudite and engaging books about Shakespeare in the last 10 years.

You’re in for a treat. Ladies and Gentlemen, Simon Reade.

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