Sam Wanamaker’s success in building the Globe (Shakespeare’s celebrated outdoor theatre) provided much of the impetus for building the Blackfriars (Shakespeare’s indoor theatre, more celebrated in his day than the Globe). For that reason, the Globe’s decision to part ways with new Artistic Director Emma Rice following next season is a matter that should be of interest to fans of the Blackfriars Playhouse and the American Shakespeare Center.
Because Ms. Rice is remarkable director with an exciting vision, her tenure has occasioned a serious conversation about the purpose of the Globe. The particular concern that sparked that conversation was her decision to add lighting and amplification to the shows in the Globe. In doing so, she raised important questions about a fundamental reason for the careful re-creation of the building: to explore how plays Shakespeare designed for that space might work, not just to learn more about Shakespeare but to learn more about theatre as well.
What concerns me as co-founder of the ASC and as a member of the Globe’s Architectural Review Group, is the way the press is framing the Globe’s decision. Their easy view is that this is a battle between tradition and innovation – between those who want the shows in the Globe to be a kind of museum theatre and those who want to apply modern technology to the shows to make the plays contemporary.
The reverse is true. The technology that Emma Rice has installed in the Globe is the conventional lighting and sound available in every prosperous modern theatre. She is a master of the use of that technology, but there is nothing new about it; fitting it into the Globe is a case – almost literally – of trying to put a square peg into a round hole. By contrast, the Globe is a unique building. Previous Globe directors – men and women – have drawn their inspiration from that building, and their exploratory work has been a wellspring of contemporary theatrical creativity. They have helped us to look anew at the relationship between actor and audience, at live musical accompaniment, at movement, at costume, and at issues of gender and casting.
In that way, the Globe, as Sam Wanamaker intended, has reminded us of the value of the purely human in the theatrical experience. In short, by using the space that inspired Shakespeare to look afresh at theatre unmediated by technology, the Globe has been a leader in creating unconventional theatre, and it has inspired theatre companies all over the world (most without connection to Shakespeare) to trust in the ability of actors and in the understanding of audiences to make great theatre without the support of performance-enhancing technology.
The American Shakespeare Center is proud that the Blackfriars Playhouse is one of those unconventional theatres.
I personally am saddened at this news i believe it will be a regressive step in the further development of the Globe. Having been a volunteer Steward since the theatre opened and a supporter before that i seen much that goes on at the Globe. I usually volunteer at least 50 times a year getting to see shows from all angles within this wooden ‘O’ .I have invested a lot of time in this space but seek no ownership of it. There has been a lot of criticism in the broadsheets often from people who have not even seen anything of Emma’s work in the Globe and before that with Knee High. The signs were out there right from the beginning,’beware the Ides of March’ there were knives drawn long before Emma took up residence the academic elite leading the way in poisoning the relationship between management audience and Director. This has been sexist in many ways toward Emma, something a male Artistic director would never have had to contend with. To judge Emma’s tenure so far based on 6 months of actual playing is a poor show indeed, the people holding the knives might have had the decency to allow her 2 or 3 years to at least get properly established and make the full artistic content of the theatre her own before casting her out. Damage has been done with this short sighted decision, how can you expect any self respecting Artistic Director to want to run the Globe theatre season knowing there hands are tied and constrained within the bounds of academia.
I have also observed audiences over the 20 years in this place. I find today audiences do not have the attention span that is required for a full blown Shakespeare play without the whistles and bells that give them the hit they crave at varying intervals.. Moving as we are into a culture of sound bite technology with folk led everywhere by their mobile phones the audience of academia is reducing. The people with the nous to understand these plays is dwindling and i think Emma has partly addressed this in her radical approach to Shakespeare plays. Taking them off the pedestal where only the academics are allowed to understand them, and putting them properly in the hands of the proletariat. I have fielded some negativity from audiences in regard to the productions, however in my opinion there has been overwhelming support and people have loved the productions, in this space, and found them accessible in the extreme. Cymbeline a play i have seen many times over the years lets face it is usually a yawn. The re-imagining of this play in Imogen has opened it up to a much greater understanding for modern audiences and made it relevant to life today. The dark approach to MSND has been a revelation the magic being felt in the house as the innovative stage lighting has created the ambience of the real and the mystical world. For modern audiences these divisions are often hard to pick up especially if you come to these plays with no knowledge at all. And that is what needs to be approached more, getting to people with little or no knowledge of Shakespeare. not the academic elite they can afford there elitism wherever they choose. The plebeians cannot so for them to see a production in this magical space and walk away feeling they have been edified for a £5.00 standing ticket is a joy indeed.
I look forward to continuing my relationship with the Globe as a volunteer and hope this schism is overcome without to much harm. We are into damage limitation the Globe board has embarrassed itself with their lack of understanding when Emma Rice was appointed, there will be a few scalps on the floor I am sure. We have not heard the last of Shakxit i fear.
Thank you so much for sharing your point of view. I know this has been a difficult time for everyone at the Globe, and I can appreciate how you feel. We are fortunate to have a very close relationship with key members of staff at the Globe and had an inside view of the workings early on, I have to say that my impression is that this decision was made without consideration of gender–only a mismatch in Artistic Philosophy (that I am certain all parties wish had been clear earlier). We have found that, even in this age of short attention spans, audiences do not need lights and whistles to stay engaged with Shakespeare’s remarkable work, only careful attention to the text and the staging conditions he wrote his plays for. I hope you will come see us soon and experience it for yourself–one of our Stewards recently paid a visit to the Globe and met with your leaders, they generously rolled out the red carpet for her and we would love to do the same for you.
Director of Education