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Columbia Teams with Royal Shakespeare Company to Produce Salman Rushdie's 'Midnight's Children' at the Apollo

Royal Shakepeare Company's As You Like It
(Photograph by Jonathan Docker-Drysdale, courtesy RSC)

An unprecedented collaboration among Columbia University, the University of Michigan/University Musical Society and the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), and the Apollo Theater in Harlem, will bring Salman Rushdie's award-winning allegory of modern India, "Midnight's Children," to the stage -- and to the United States -- for the first time. It will be performed this March in New York City and Ann Arbor, Michigan after a run in London this winter.

"Midnight's Children" is a complex and important work combining three main tales: the turbulent history of 20th-century India, Pakistan and Bangladesh: the saga of a Muslim family: and the story of one man, Saleem Sinai, whose telepathic powers allow him to communicate with other children born at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947.

The Ann Arbor production will run on the campus of the University of Michigan from March 12 to 16 at the Power Center for the Performing Arts in a co-presentation with the University Musical Society, an independent performing arts presenting organization affiliated with the University of Michigan.

The New York City production, presented by Columbia University, will run March 21 through March 30 at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.

In London, "Midnight's Children" will have a five-week run at London's Barbican Theatre from January 18 through February 23 .

Commenting on the stage adaptation of his book, Salman Rushdie said: "I'm delighted that "Midnight's Children" is to be staged with such commitment by the RSC, and to be working again with director Tim Supple, who made such a brilliant version of "Haroun and the Sea of Stories" at the National Theatre in London a couple of years ago. It's also an honour to have the participation of two great American universities, and a real thrill to be able to bring the show to the Apollo, which is not just a theatre but an icon of New York life."

President Lee C. Bollinger, who was instrumental in forging the partnership with the RSC two years ago while President of the University of Michigan, said: "Universities and cultural institutions are natural allies in seeking to understand the human condition. When they work together, the best of both worlds are integrated and intellectual growth is fostered through panel discussions, academic courses, and lectures which complement the artistic endeavor. Both art and the entire academic community -- including students, faculty, and our neighbors -- benefit dramatically. I am extremely pleased to be partnering with two world-class cultural institutions such as the RSC and the Apollo Theater. I believe part of the role of the University is to nurture a vital and thriving modern culture and it is my hope that Columbia will continue to find ways to connect with the arts and our neighboring community."

University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman added: "The University of Michigan extends a warm welcome back to the Royal Shakespeare Company and is thrilled to collaborate on such an important theater project as "Midnight's Children." Michigan's support of the arts -- from creation to performance -- is one of our University's great hallmarks and among our highest aspirations. As a public university we can open the doors wide to cultural jewels like this, with our expert faculty as guides to the full richness of the experience."

The Production

The cast includes 20 British actors, many of whom are South Asian. The leading role of Saleem is played by Zubin Varla. His previous roles for the RSC include Romeo in "Romeo and Juliet" (1999), the title role in "Roberto Zucco" (1999) and most recently Caliban in "The Tempest"(2000). Other members of the creative team include Melly Still (designer and movement), Tina McHugh (lighting) and John Leonard (sound and video).

Director Tim Supple is thrilled that the novel has been adapted for the stage: "Past attempts to film and stage 'Midnight's Children' have sadly failed. Now the novel's fantastic language and remarkable story can be enjoyed as a theatrical spectacle. Rushdie's creation will be brought to life in a production that we hope will be as inventive, contemporary, sweeping and engrossing as the novel itself."

Salman Rushdie's 'Midnight's Children'

The "Midnight's Children" Festival, New York

Audiences will have the opportunity to enrich their experience of "Midnight's Children" by participating in an innovative education and humanities festival, which will include discussions with Salman Rushdie; round-tables and dialogues with Columbia faculty, South Asian writers, and the artists from the RSC production team. Themes to be explored will include history of the region, the era of colonialization and its aftermath, the relationship of literature and politics, and the current political climate in the region. In addition, the online materials will be created including web-casts, e-seminars, and interactive discussion groups. The RSC's creative and technical staff will be key participants in Festival events, which will also include New York's Asia Society.

New York City public high school students and teachers in surrounding communities will also benefit, having the opportunity to attend special school performances and to become deeply immersed in the play's themes of nationhood, cultural history, and religious, racial and ethnic diversity. The RSC Education Department is collaborating with Columbia's Double Discovery Center (an academic enrichment program for public school children) to provide in-class workshops to prepare the students for the performance.

During the two-week run in New York, "Midnight's Children" will play at the renowned Apollo Theater in neighboring Harlem. Partners hope the production will be the first of many artistic opportunities for Columbia and Harlem communities to work together, thus bringing more productions and University events to the surrounding neighborhoods and to the wider New York City public.

David Rodriquez, Executive Director of the Apollo Theater, Harlem commented: "Embarking on this unique theatre project with the world-renowned Royal Shakespeare Company and our neighbor, Columbia University, is an exciting opportunity for the Apollo Theater.

"For more than 80 years the Apollo has provided a forum where the cultural and social issues of the day could be freely and creatively expressed to the benefit of our surrounding communities and society at large. This global-local partnership offers us a new opportunity to continue our acclaimed tradition of challenging minds and expanding horizons through the performing arts."

The Michigan Residency

The Michigan residency is the second component in a five-year relationship between the RSC and the University of Michigan and the University Musical Society. The joint venture was launched in March 2001 with the co-presentation of Shakespeare's "Henry VI, parts i, ii and iii" and Richard III, directed by the RSC's new artistic director, Michael Boyd.

Cultural events in Michigan, similar to those in New York, will occur on campus in Ann Arbor and throughout southeastern Michigan, which is home to large Muslim and Hindu communities. There will be sessions for theatre students with actors and production staff; a lecture series on the history of India, and on globalization and theater; a documentary film series; special UM courses on Salman Rushdie; a public reading of "Midnight's Children"; community receptions with the Michigan Indian, Pakistani and Muslim communities; and lectures, conferences and symposia about current events in India and Pakistan. Salman Rushdie will spend several days on the University of Michigan campus participating in community and university educational events.

University Musical Society President Ken Fischer noted: "UMS is pleased to work with the University of Michigan and the RSC once again on a bold and timely project, just as we did with the award-winning Shakespeare History Cycle two years ago. To now have Columbia University as a new partner creates the prospect that people not only in Ann Arbor and New York but throughout the world via the Internet and other technologies will have unprecedented access to the enormous intellectual resources that these two great institutions will bring to bear -- and share with each other -- enabling everyone to probe the rich cultural, historical, and human context of this fascinating work by Salman Rushdie."

Published: Sep 06, 2002
Last modified: Sep 18, 2002

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