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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: September ::
Re: New Globe
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0913.  Thursday, 11 September 1997.

[1]     From:   Stephen Orgel <
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        Date:   Tuesdayy, 9 Sep 1997 16:14:22 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0908  Re: New Globe

[2]     From:   Norm Holland <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 10 Sep 97 17:43:24 EDT
        Subj:   Globe again


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephen Orgel <
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Date:           Tuesdayy, 9 Sep 1997 16:14:22 -0700
Subject: 8.0908  Re: New Globe; Ophelia
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0908  Re: New Globe; Ophelia

Well, I seem to have hit a nerve! If Michael Pickering is really
suggesting that people who don't want to stand should forget about the
Globe, I will reluctantly agree with him, but he will get no thanks from
the proprietors.  The theater has more seating than standing room for
the same reason the original Globe did, because it was assumed that more
people want to sit than stand. On the correctness of this assumption
depends the financial solvency of the operation. I also would like to
say a word in defense of Aspatia, so ungallantly treated by Pickering: I
found her not whiny at all, but-when I could hear her-passionate and
articulate. Of course I went to the opening performance. I'm quite
prepared to believe that several days of audiences like the one I
attended with would have reduced her to whining.  As for the 4 hour As
You Like It, it must have had long intermissions-or very slow actors.
Chacun a son gout.

S. Orgel

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Norm Holland <
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Date:           Wednesday, 10 Sep 97 17:43:24 EDT
Subject:        Globe again

I assumed that SHAKSPER would have finished up with the new Globe
Theatre during my summer travels, but Steve Orgel's post inspires me to
put in my oar, similar but different.  Nutshell: direction poor, theater
great, and the experience something quite different from anything I've
experienced in a theater before.  (See my last three paragraphs for
that. I apologize for the length of this posting, but those who aren't
interested in the details should skip to the end.)

Our first visit was for H5, very near opening day, unfortunately part of
a "Festival of Firsts."  A lot of the audience were there in tuxedos,
and I got the feeling that if you were important in the media, that's
where you were Saturday, June 14th.  We were seeing all the cast of
Masterpiece Theater in mufti.

The theater itself is as exact a reproduction of Globe II as I can
remember from my days of studying Elizabethan theatrical practice with
Alfred Harbage.  It is extremely ornate in the Tudor-Jacobean mode with
gilt and color and paintings, mascherons on the back facade, and two
faux marble columns.  There are paintings of a rather crude kind on the
tiring-house facade: St.  George slaying a dragon, various other
patriotic subjects.  The pilasters have classical figures on them.  The
heavens are well decorated with sun, moon and so on.

But that big open playing space is just out there and waiting for
someone who knows how to use it.  The circular building means that
wherever you sit or stand (on the asphalted groundling-space) you are
within about 30-40 feet of the players, *if* they are playing to the
front of the stage.  (A big if, as Steve Orgel points out.)  As a
result, the theater is both big and surprisingly intimate, as everyone
has reported.  One feels in close proximity despite the very large
crowd; capacity 900 groundlings, they say, total 2000, if I understood
correctly.  It's as though everybody were in orchestra seats in the
tenth row in a proscenium theater.  _Pace_ Orgel, I found the cushions
sufficient comfort.

Yet you are by the same token very much aware of the people around you
as an audience.  They are not, as in a modern theater, vague shapes in
the dark, but actual faces and clothes, particularly the groundlings,
who are shifting positions, moving around, going out to the lobby, and
so on.  So this is not a theatre of illusion, but one of listening.  It
is like being at a boxing match.  The presence of all these others is,
as I found out, an essential part of the experience.

At the same time, however, the actors' voices were straining. They
seemed to be talking at the top of their lungs all the time.  I had
thought that the cylindrical shape would reflect the sound back into the
auditorium, but I guess a lot of sound is lost through the open air at
the top and absorbed by people's bodies.

The company played Henry V relatively straight with gorgeous armor,
French fopperies, red ecclesiastical robes, all very decorative.  The
lead and director, Mark Rylance, decided this was to be a thoughtful
Henry, so instead of letting those great oratorical speeches roll out,
he would pause from time to time to indicate thought. Unfortunately, his
way of indicating thought was to walk around in a circle, so there was a
great deal of that in the middle of the speeches.  Also  he was having a
bad day.  From time to time, he forgot lines.  I think he was used to a
more naturalistic stage in which the actor pauses to consider
possibilities, feel remorse, or whatever. I don't think you can do that
on this stage.  I think it requires a more continuous kind of speaking,
because this is a theater more of listening, less of watching, than we
are used to.

The company kept breaking the play up with five minute intermissions,
totally destroying any sense of flow or continuous development.   This
may have been part of the Festival-I hope they don't do it at regular
performances.  The audience was encouraged to boo and hiss the French
and cheer the English, with the result that the whole thing took on the
atmosphere of a football game.  Very stop-start.  Instead of a smooth
flow from scene to scene, the director made sharp breaks between scenes
by having totally different styles and entrances.  These and the
intermissions led me to feel that each scene was set up like a different
skit in a college revue.  The use of several different characters for
the prologue and chorus also contributed to the fragmented feeling.  All
the nesting and paralleling of the low-life scenes and the monarchical
doings got lost.  Rylance also introduced a bunch of totally irrelevant
songs and insisted on having the Te Deum sung at full length, by two
choristers in the upper stage.

On Tuesday, June 17th, we again crossed the Thames to Bankside, this
time for The Winter's Tale.  Rylance had the brainstorm of staging
Sicilia and Bohemia as two African kingdoms, complete with thrones made
of cut up tractor tires (tyres?) and brown earth of some kind that got
all over everybody's costumes and bare feet.  You had the anomalous
result of a bunch of people in African get-ups sitting in front of that
Renaissance facade with its baroque angels and whatnot. Idiotic!

In one astonishing touch, the notorious bear was played by a
metamorphosed Hermione (a vengeful ghost, perhaps?).  In any case,
Shakespeare's hidden bear-bairn wordplay was lost.

The acting and staging was somewhat better here, but the sheepshearing
was converted from a Renaissance pastoral to an African fertility
ceremony with Perdita virtually humped on stage.  Paulina was an African
crone throwing spells this way and that.  The whole effect was one of
primitive, almost savage ritual (much in play during the trial and
sheep-shearing scenes).  Forget stateliness!

I think Rylance was looking for a setting where a monarch would have
absolute power, where lots of supernatural rituals would be associated
with him, and in which gods and oracles would be believed.  The colors
were remarkable: Leontes' Sicilia was all done in brown, Polyxenes'
Bohemia in blue.  The Bohemians wore necklaces of what looked like bear
claws, but when I got up close, I could see they were plastic drawer
pulls!

Clearly, Rylance has missed the point.  This is a theater of speech and
language and listening, not one of visually projecting into the play,
not one of visually delivered emotions.  This is not a theater where you
look at an illusion, but a theater where you watch and listen to an
actor.  The director's role is much reduced from its modern status.
(Come to think of it, we know the names of a number of Elizabethan
actors and theater owners, but next to nothing about directors.)  The
recent posting about an actor-centered production is much to the point.
This Globe is an actor's theater, not a director's.

The Autolycus, however, was superb, and it was he who showed me what
this theater could do.  I've seen him on Masterpiece Theatre dozens of
times, but I didn't catch his name (programs were one pound).  Where the
others were caught up in trying to make things look African, he was
English music-hall and playing to the audience.  In the latter part of
the play, I left our (fairly expensive) seats in the first gallery and
stood as a groundling right in front of the stage.  It was fantastic!
Like watching a close-up in a movie.  I was often just three feet from
the actors.  They would be playing to the whole house and I would see
the sweat and spit of their speaking-very exciting, like watching a
sporting event close-up.

It was particularly effective with Autolycus.  He was, as I say, playing
to the crowd, strumming a ukelele and otherwise carrying on, confiding
his schemes to the upper galleries.  Yet I, as groundling, felt he was
doing this to me.  When he began cadging money, not only I, but
everybody in that front row of groundlings began tossing coins at him.
Which he cheerfully picked up and pocketed to the guffaws of the rest of
the audience.  I've never felt quite that relation to an actor, that he
was acting, that I knew he was acting and I was in a theater and part of
a crowd, but that I was part of his acting and believing him in his
part.

People talk about blurring the line between performer and audience but
this happened in a very special way, where he remained the performer,
playing to the rest of the house, but I was there in his act, with him.
I've never experienced anything quite like that in a theater.  I think
it's a strange combination of Brecht's alienation effect (the daylight,
the crowd, the lack of illusion, and yes, Steve, the discomfort) but *at
the same time* an identification with the actor in his role.  If I
examine my own feelings, I think I identify with him the same way that I
identify with someone in an athletic event or giving a speech-I feel as
if I were acting the part.  For that very reason, I believe in the
illusion at the same time that I know it is an illusion.

Perhaps this is a purely personal reaction.  I would like to think,
though, that some of the people at that marvelously true Globe have
stumbled onto the art of Elizabethan theater.  I hope that, in time,
more will.
 

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