William Pole [later changed to Poel as a nom de theatre] was born on 22nd July 1852 in the city of Westminster and died on 13th December 1934 at his home in Putney, SW London.
A producer and actor, William Poel's career spanned the years from the rise of Victorian actor-manager Henry Irving to the establishment of such twentieth century figures as John Gielgud and Laurence Olivier.
He is remembered as the founder of the Elizabethan Stage Society [1894-1905]. But he was also a founder and leading figure in the movements at the end of the nineteenth century campaigning for such things as: the restoration of Shakespeare's texts, a simpler, fleeter staging of the plays, the rediscovery of early English drama, a Shakespeare memorial theatre, and a National Theatre. His influence on the production of early English, Elizabethan and Jacobean drama can still be seen today.
The first of the William Poel commemorative performances was presented by the Society for Theatre Research in 1952. It was a special matinee at the Old Vic theatre organised by leading theatre figures of the time who had worked with Poel, such as Edith Evans, Sybil Thorndike, Robert Atkins, Lewis Casson, Nugent Monck and Donald Wolfit. From this developed a series of annual competitions between two established drama schools with a prize for a best speech or Shakespeare duologue. The aim was to develop 'good stage speech'.
From private verse-speaking recitals within a few drama schools, the Festival changed to become a public performance on our major London stages. From 1983, an annual performance was staged in the Olivier Theatre at the National Theatre. At the start of the 21st century, it moved to Shakespeare's Globe where agents and industry were present and the last Festival performance was given in 2005 at the Theatre Royal Haymarket.
A few years later, Norman Tozer re-established the Poel Event at the National Theatre as a non-competitive, private training opportunity for professional actors between two and ten years of drama school with leading professionals willing to share their experience with the next generation. The Poel Festival (now the Sam Wanamaker Festival) continued at The Globe Theatre.
In 2013 The Poel Event teamed up with The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and the Event expanded again, providing two days of training (The first at Central and the second at The National Theatre).
After more than half a century, 'The Poel Event' continues to evolve, responding to the times but keeping to its aims: the promotion of a text-centric and verse-faithful performance of the plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries.