What would Shakespeare do?

A few months ago I was lucky enough to work at the Globe in London. The Globe is a replica of the theatre Shakespeare worked in when he was working in London during the early 1600s. The Globe is made largely of wood and is open to the elements, it has the only a thatched roof allowed in London. We’re still a bit cautious after the Great Fire of London in 1666.. The Globe had previously been run as a theatrical kind of museum; productions did not utilize tech support or theatrical lighting and sound.

While the audience no longer urinates in the corners of the auditorium and due to modern-day health and safety concerns the theatre capacity is considerably less than it was in the early 1600s. The Globe is still in Southwark, on the south bank of the Thames as it was in the 1600s. During the 1600s this was outside of the city of London and such was London’s illicit entertainment district and was full of prostitution, animal fights, and the theatre. Shakespeare was not a stuffy member of the respectable establishment.

About 400 years later I am sitting in a replica of the Globe doing a production of Macbeth. There are two drops of line array a digico, some MSL2s, and a line of delays on every level. It is part of the wonderful season and a new Artistic Director has been appointed to the Globe, Emma Rice. This was her first season at the helm, and modern lighting and sound are being employed, and this is upsetting a lot of people. But the box office is strong with performances having brisk sales.

Yet just after one season, Rice has been asked to step down. In a statement the chief executive of the Globe, Neil Constable said Rice’s “mould-breaking work” had brought in “new and diverse audiences, won huge creative and critical acclaim, and achieved exceptionally strong box office returns.” He goes on to further say, “Following much deliberation and discussion, the Globe Board has concluded that from April 2018, the theatre programming should be structured around light productions without designed sound and light rigging, which characterised a large body of The Globe’s work prior to Emma’s appointment”.

They are getting rid of the lighting and sound and Emma is going as well. What a shame! They want productions without designed sound as Shakespeare did. But Shakespeare utilized a sound department, using sound effects and they lowered actors in from the flys. Shakespeare’s plays would have originally been performed with young men playing the roles of women. Does that mean women shouldn’t be performing as well? There is a place called the “Sound Attic” it has always been the sound attic because that’s where they produced special efx. Such as firing cannons. Cannons that were sound effects. In June 1613 during a production of Henry VIII, a piece of burning wadding fired from a canon in the sound attic, set light to the thatched roof, and in about an hour the theatre had burnt down. Shakespeare did use sound and lighting efx.

Would Shakespeare shun today’s technology?

The Globe’s revenue this season has increased, there have been great reviews. Depending on where in the world you are you can even watch a recording of A Mid Summer Nights Dream. (not the production I was involved with) It’s excellent, you should watch it if you can.

images-35Is the Globe a working theatre or a museum that does theatre? Is there room for it to be both? Artistic Directors sometimes disagree with Chief Executives, but Artistic Directors typically are not called “Naughty” At a recent event on women theatre, Emma Rice revealed she had been emailing someone “pretty high up in the arts” who had referred to her three times as ‘naughty.’ “And I want to say: who would use that word to a man?” she said. Rice was asked at an event if she thought opinionated and ‘loud’ women attract more criticism, she replied: “I don’t think I am loud. I think I have led an incredibly private life.” When it was then suggested there might be a perception that a director is automatically a ‘loud figure,’ Rice responded: “Who says that about a man?”

Was Emma’s gender the reason she had to step down, not necessarily? Does her gender influence how she is spoken about, absolutely!

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