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Banning Technology At The Globe Theatre: What Would Shakespeare Do?

Globe Theatre Banning Technology
By Sound Girls
Yvonne Gilbert

A few months ago I was lucky enough to work at the Globe Theatre 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  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.

Today, 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 area was considered outside of the city of London and was reputed as London’s illicit entertainment district, 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 wonder 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 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 effects. 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 effects.

Would Shakespeare shun today’s technology?

The Globe’s revenue this season has increased and there have been great reviews. Depending on where in the world you are you can even watch a recording of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s excellent, you should watch it if you can.

Is the Globe a working theatre or a museum that does theatre? Is there room for it to be both?

The vision of Emma Rice may have been too much too fast for the executive committee but does that mean it was wrong? Doesn’t the direction of theatre revolve around what the audience wants to see? Can a Globe season do both the traditional historical portrayal of Shakespeare’s works as well as modern interpretations utilising technology?

What would you want for the historical Globe theatre?

Article by SoundGirl: Yvonne Gilbert

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