My Quest To Save The Rose

By Suzanne Marie Taylor

My name is Suzanne Marie Taylor, and I am from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. I am currently an MA student at Birkbeck University, studying Archaeological Practice. My background is in theatre, but because of my love for the archaeological site of Philip Henslowe’s 1587 Rose Playhouse, I decided to pursue my Master’s degree in archaeology, so that I may help to save The Rose one day. I wholeheartedly believe that the arts and archaeology work incredibly well together, complimenting each other beautifully. I very much wish to demonstrate this through my own life’s work in both theatre and archaeology.

I graduated with a diploma in Performing Arts-Theatre in 1992 from Douglas College, Canada. After graduation, I co-wrote a comedy sketch show-in which I also performed, at the 1993 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Three years later, I continued my theatre training at The London Academy of Performing Arts, and I received my postgraduate diploma in Classical Acting in 1997. After graduating, I was then employed as an Exhibition Guide at Shakespeare’s Globe from 1997 to 2005.

My experience at Shakespeare’s Globe led me to become a volunteer at the magnificent archaeological site of The Rose Playhouse in 2001. Volunteering at The Rose Playhouse completely transformed my life. Since 2001, I have devoted my life to saving The Rose, and have helped to transform the archaeological site of The Rose into a thriving, fresh and exciting theatrical space, maintaining the vital balance between archaeology and the arts. Over the past seventeen years, the plays of Shakespeare have been performed at The Rose, as well as the plays of Shakespeare’s contemporaries such as Christopher Marlowe; Thomas Kyd; Thomas Dekker; and Ben Jonson. Modern writing and new plays have also been performed at The Rose, as well as operas and musicals. As well as being a volunteer at The Rose Playhouse, I was also an Honorary Artistic Associate of The Rose from 2013-2017, and I have received a lifetime Friends of The Rose membership.

In May 2011, I was the first actor to play the role of Joan La Pucelle in Henry VI part I at The Rose in over 400 years. Henry VI part I remains a very special play for me-not only is Henry VI part I a play Shakespeare wrote for The Rose in 1592 and listed in Philip Henslowe’s Diary, but Joan La Pucelle’s words from Act I scene II-‘Glory is like a circle in the water,’reflect The Rose as it is today-an archaeological site submerged in water with a red circle of light to map out its original size and shape. Luckily, Joan La Pucelle continues her speech with words that also reflect the hopeful future of  The Rose-‘Which never ceaseth to enlarge itself’. It is my personal quest to make sure that the beautiful Rose Playhouse will ‘…never ceaseth to enlarge itself’.

Suzanne Marie as Joan La Pucelle at The Rose Playhouse
Suzanne Marie as Joan La Pucelle in Henry VI part I at The Rose Playhouse, May 2011. Robert Piwko-photographer.

Over the years I have strived to make The Rose a vital part of community life, and I have strived for The Rose to be of help to other charities as well. Through my own initiative, The Rose raised funds for NAPAC-The National Association of People Abused in Childhood, when I performed in the play-Buried Alive at The Rose in August 2010. Also through my own initiative-in December 2014, The Rose Christmas Carol Concert raised money for The Catholic Children’s Society-a charity which helps families of all faiths who are living in poverty. Through my own initiative, The Rose Christmas Carol concert in 2015 raised money for Place2Be a charity which helps children with emotional difficulties.

As well as being a volunteer and actress at The Rose, from 2010-2016 I was responsible for organising and managing the successful weekly Saturday Rose Open Days. In 2012, The Rose Theatre Trust was awarded a Heritage Lottery Fund First-Round development grant for The Rose Revealed Project. I was then asked to be responsible for writing weekly Rose Open Day reports to be submitted to a Heritage Development consultant, to demonstrate how well The Rose contributes to local and world community life. In November 2012, The British Museum hosted the press launch to announce the news of the Heritage Lottery Fund First-Round development grant. I attended this exciting press launch with members of The Rose Theatre Trust and Rose volunteers, in the presence of Ian McKellen.

Suzanne and Ian
Suzanne Marie with Ian McKellen after filming his fantastic interview for ‘Shakespeare’s Secret Playhouse’, June 2015. Siegffried Loew-Walker-photographer.

I have been very fortunate in receiving kind and generous support from Canada House for the voluntary work I do for The Rose. His Excellency Gordon Campbell-now former Canadian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, visited The Rose in 2013, and saw me play the role of Ophelia in Hamlet. His Excellency Gordon Campbell also very kindly organised my invitation to St James’s Palace on the 14th May 2014, where I had the great honour and privilege of meeting Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall. On the 4th May 2016, I received another very kind invitation from His Excellency Gordon Campbell to meet Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall at Canada House. It was a great honour to speak with Their Royal Highnesses about The Rose.

In 2015, I had the idea of making a documentary film about The Rose, to show how vitally important The Rose and archaeology are. My friend and colleague Anthony Lewis very kindly offered to help me with the film, as did my other friend and colleague Siegffried Loew-Walker. We embarked upon this very special and self-funded project with great devotion, which took us nearly two years to complete. The making of this film could not have been possible without the incredibly kind and generous interviewees, who gave of their time and talents for free to help us with our Rose film. It was my biggest dream for our Rose film to have an interview with one of the world’s greatest and most respected actors-Ian McKellen. I therefore wrote to Ian McKellen in 2015, politely asking if he would kindly consider being interviewed for our Rose film, and to speak about his own personal experience during the 1989 Save The Rose Campaign when The Rose was partially excavated by The Museum of London. It was one of the greatest moments in my life when I received a letter from Ian McKellen very kindly and graciously consenting to be interviewed. Ian McKellen’s interview is the highlight of our Rose documentary film ‘Shakespeare’s Secret Playhouse’, which premiered at Canada House on the 2nd February 2017.

In my attempt to Save The Rose, my love for archaeology has blossomed. I became a member of The Birkbeck Archaeology Society in 2014, and in 2016 I trained as a volunteer with the fantastic Thames Discovery Programme. In October 2017, I began my Master’s Degree in Archaeological Practice at Birkbeck University.

As a result of volunteering with The Thames Discovery Programme, my first essay for my Master’s degree was about First World War motor launch-M.L. 286. The Thames Discovery Programme clean and record her where she sits in the muddy Thames foreshore at Isleworth Ait. I helped to clean and record M.L. 286 in May 2017 with the TDP, and as a result, I now have an additional archaeological love. I very much hope to somehow save this little ship as well, which is currently in a very sad state of disrepair.

Suzanne at Isleworth
Suzanne Marie with M.L. 286 at Isleworth Ait. Volunteering with The Thames Discovery Programme, May 2017. Gabrielle Abbott-photographer.

In the meantime, I continue performing Shakespeare, and have performed in several Shakespeare events with the Shake-scene Shakespeare Theatre Company-invited by The Museum of London Archaeology Time Truck; The Curtain Theatre; and The Stage EC2.

I believe the beautiful archaeological site of Philip Henslowe’s 1587 Rose Playhouse combines our world’s two greatest storytellers: Shakespeare and archaeology. Both Shakespeare and archaeology lead to the truth about our very fragile and very complex human condition. I believe our beautiful Rose Playhouse has survived over 400 years for this very purpose. The Rose, Shakespeare and archaeology are very much fresh, alive and now. The Rose has taught us so much about an Elizabethan purpose-built playhouse, and if the completion of the archaeological dig ever comes to pass, The Rose will have even more amazing stories to share with us. In this second Elizabethan Age, let us be the truth seekers and Save the Rose, and give back to the world this beautiful gift of human discovery, where Shakespeare was blazing the trail.

Learn more about this amazing project by following Suzanne Marie on twitter @SuzanneMarie05 and check out these links for Shakespeare’s Secret Playhouse, and the Birkbeck Archaeological Society blog on Shakespeare’s Secret Playhouse.

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