Teaching Shakespeare Through Performance – Day 1

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Fiona Banks, our Course Director, teaching us about the new Sam Wanamaker space.

Today was the first day of our coursework here at the Globe.

Wow.  In this single day I feel like I’ve learned enough to revamp my teaching of Shakespeare and Dramatic Arts to merit the price of tuition…and there are 20 more days to go!  But rather than catalogue the fantastic ensemble-building exercises we learned from Colin Hurley, who recently played in the all-male Twelfth Night/Richard III on Broadway, I want to reflect on the talk given by Patrick Spottiswoode, the Director of Education here at the Globe who worked with founder Sam Wanamaker from the beginning, before they’d even broken ground to build the theater.

According to Patrick, Sam made his name in radio soap operas in Chicago and New York before being offered work in the UK.  He might have returned to live in the US but for the fact that he’d made Sen. McCarthy’s infamous list and his friends told him to stay in the UK for the time being.  Because he listened to them, the UK benefitted from his work at setting up the nation’s very first Arts Center (in Liverpool, I think he said…), and eventually he got the idea to recreate Shakespeare’s famed Globe Theatre.  The project met opposition from all sides: from the political left and right, from the arts establishment folk to the “who-cares-about-Shakespeare?” philistines. Their reasons were many, but among them were the fact that the visionary Wanamaker was an American son of Ukrainian Jews and the chief architect, Theo Crosby, was South African (who were these foreigners to tell the Brits about Shakespeare?).  But they were tenacious, and now it’s here.  The Globe has now been open since 1997 and is now a beloved point of pilgrimage for Shakespeare devotees the world over.

The Heavens of the Sam Wanamaker

The Heavens of the Sam Wanamaker

In a sad twist of fate, neither Sam nor Theo lived to see the Globe’s opening.  They did, however, dream of one day building an indoor theatre that would be a functioning replica of one of the earliest 17th century indoor theatres (the next generation after the open air theatres like the Globe).  That day came last year when the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse opened alongside the Globe.  It’s built according to the oldest surviving plans for an indoor theatre that anyone can find.  There’s no evidence that any theatre was built using those plans prior to now (they seem to have been drawn up but then put aside for whatever reason), but it clearly matches general descriptions of the theatres that existed at the time.

The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is stunning.  In our group of teachers there are several who have been to London many times and some for whom it’s their first visit.  One teacher of the latter group was so moved by the experience of seeing the Globe for the first time that she cried.  I thought, “Awww, bless her!  Wouldn’t it be nice if I could feel that feeling all over again?”  I was at the Globe shortly after it opened and have visited several times since then.

Teachers looking up.

Teachers looking up.

But I’d never seen the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse until today.  I can’t even tell you why it moved me so much, but as soon as we stepped inside I had a feeling of being transported in time, even more than I feel in the Globe.  It’s candlelit and incredibly intimate; much smaller than the Globe — I can only imagine what the dynamic between actor and audience must be like in a space like that.  I won’t have to imagine for long though: not only will we see a performance there, we’re going to be the first teacher group to perform in the space!  Before coming here, I was giddy at the prospect of performing on the Globe stage, and I still am. But I knew nothing of the Sam Wanamaker stage: even if I’d known we’d perform on it, it wouldn’t have meant anything to me.  Now I’m giddy for two performances!

Me getting all weepy.

Me getting all weepy.

So anyway, I cried.  The story of what it took to create the space, from the visionaries who dreamt it, to the plans drawn up 400 years earlier that sat quietly awaiting their day, to the incredible words of Shakespeare that continue to motivate people to dream and build and create and perform…it was too much for me.

I’m proud, excited and extremely grateful to have a moment on these stages and be a part of their stories.

 

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