Last night, we hosted the Kickoff Event of our “35 Famous Speeches in 35 Famous Places” Series at the Presidio Officer’s Club. The event included a look back at the three successful speeches we’ve performed so far, a brief history of the past 35 years of San Francisco Shakespeare Festival, and a sneak peek at upcoming events. It also included our fourth speech in the series.
Speech #4 was a group reading of a speech from Sir Thomas More, written by Shakespeare as part of a never-completed collaboration with his contemporary playwrights.
The speech is a passionate piece of rhetoric encouraging empathy for immigrants, and our choice of the Presidio as the particular “famous place” for this speech was intentional.
The Presidio is one of our valued artistic partners, and this location has an involved and illustrious history in San Francisco. Sadly, that history also includes acting as headquarters for the Western Defense Command, the military outfit that ordered and oversaw the forced removal of 120,000 citizens of Japanese Americans and people of Japanese ancestry during World War II (the Presidio is creating an in-depth historical exhibition about this period, if you’d like to learn more).
Last night, on the site of that dark moment in our nation’s cultural history, dozens of people stood together and read aloud Shakespeare’s speech, in which Thomas More speaks to a mob of citizens demanding that immigrants be removed from London.
While we loved the match between the content of the speech and the location of its performance, we are especially pleased that yesterday’s event coincided with the nationwide Day Without Immigrants protest. As an artistic organization whose top values are access, diversity, and inclusion, we support the welcoming of immigrants in our community–and we marvel that Shakespeare could so beautifully express that support many hundreds of years ago. We are proud to have called this Sanctuary City home for 35 years, and we are so excited to take part in the The Ghostlight Project and other similar efforts to welcome immigrants.
May we all learn from the text below (the excerpt from Shakespeare’s speech that we read last night), and take it to heart.