London. May 1611. William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale is performed at The Globe Theatre by a company of actors called The King’s Men.
London. January 2009. Rehearsals begin for William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale at the Globe Theatre by a company of actors called the MA CCTs from the RSAMD.
Does that put it in prospective at all? 398 years people. The United States of America isn’t even that old. Okay, so technically we are not performing the whole play, we are only doing scenes, but we are going to be performing them on the Globe’s stage to an invited audience of industry and academic professionals. I can’t tell you what an honor it is to be here and working in this amazing environment with some of the most brilliant Shakespeare scholars the world has to offer!
Today’s Globe is called Shakespeare’s Globe and is an approximate reconstruction of what experts think the original Globe Theatre may have looked like. They are sensitive about using the word replica because the modern Globe’s founders are making educated guesses and deductions based on the available information and research. But I have to say I don’t think Shakespeare would have felt out of place at all in today’s Globe. We have spent time in the studio working with the text, learning the history and training in movement and voice skills that will be of great benefit to us come show time. But, the most profound moments have come when we have stepped onto that stage.
The building itself is circular as was the custom for theatres at the time, built out of 400 year old oak and uses materials that would have been used in Elizabethan England. The roof is thatched (don’t worry it is treated with fire retardant), the walls contain animal hair and if you buy “orchestra seats” you’ll be standing for the whole of the show. The construction crew did not whip out any power tools or rent any Bobcats to erect this tribute. They did it the way they would have done it back then. The structure is held together not by nails, screws and bolts but by wooden pegs. The theatre’s architecture contains some hallmarks of time. The seating (or standing) levels of the theatre represent the elements of earth, water, air and fire. The ceiling above the stage is elaborately painted with the circle of astrological signs and Greek gods serve as a backdrop for the actors.
The stage is absolute magic. When I trod those boards for the first time I felt the history of stage craft surround me. Although the Globe can host an audience of 1,600, it didn’t look or feel overwhelming and “big” when I looked out from the stage. The embracing arms of the theatre wrapped around to hold me. The acoustics of the space are near perfection. We each had a shot at standing in the dead center of the building (down stage center) and speaking some text. Even when they spoke in a whisper, I could hear my classmates from the back wall. Those Elizabethans knew what they were doing when designing theatres. The very building supports the actor and nurtures the performance. I’ve never been on a stage that vibrates with that kind of energy before. As goofy as it may sound, for us, as actors, it was a spiritual experience.
The idea of building Shakespeare’s Globe was conceived by an American named Sam Wanamaker. He spearheaded this project and passed away in 1993 before the Globe’s completion and grand opening in 1997. Many of our instructors and lecturers knew Mr. Wanamaker and share wonderful stories about him. He is regarded with much admiration and affection for his dedication and vision. Yay USA!
We only arrived last Monday and time is flying but we have already learned a ton. We are usually at the Globe 10 to 12 hours a day and every hour is crammed full of wonderful new information and training. Hey, they did call it an “intensive”. We spend all day with absolute geniuses and we are loving it!
I have not seen too much of London yet, but there will be time for that. We get Sundays and Mondays off and are planning to be tourists during some of that time. Monday we hope to visit the London Eye. But for now I’ve got some character research to do. So off I go; cup of tea and Hermione!
Take care everyone!!