Traditional Shakespeare Meets a Hilarious 1970s Spectacle at The Globe Theatre

On Wednesday, our group saw a production by the playwright who has built an unmatched “historical pedigree” (Fallow) around British theatre when we attended William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night at the Globe Theatre. I was particularly excited for this show, having marvelled at the reverence people around the world attach to a small structure that was built over 400 years ago and stood for barely 50 (“Original Globe”).

Earlier on Wednesday, we spoke to Dr. Catriona Fallow about the primacy of Shakespeare in British literary and cultural identity. The evidence for this primacy is plentiful in London: Shakespeare merchandise sold miles away from any theatre, a colorful Shakespeare mural painted on a side street , and a British Council poster that asserts “Shakespeare IS Great Britain”.

shakespeare muralshakespeare is

With the weight of a centuries-old legacy and a theatre that was painstakingly reconstructed to match the original 1599 Globe (“Rebuilding the Globe”), I assumed performances at today’s Globe would embody a similar effort to reconstruct the past. However, Cat informed us that the Globe also presents adaptations and new productions. In performing only “museum” pieces, the Globe would not encourage the artistic exploration that characterized Shakespeare’s original company.

However, experimentation can be controversial. After less than a year as the Globe’s artistic director, Emma Rice announced in October that she was stepping down due to disagreements with the Board over “experimentation” in light and sound that deviates from traditional Shakespeare (Furness). Experimentation can also damage a theatre’s revenues; audience members described the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Marat/Sade as “utter filth and depravity” and up to 80 people walked out of the theatre one night (Alleyne).

I continued to consider this balance between upholding legacy and encouraging exploration as we entered the Globe on Wednesday night. As I took my place in the standing section, I heard an usher confide that this would be a “very modern adaptation”. It seemed I was not about to watch the museum piece I expected.

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As I watched Emma Rice’s production of Twelfth Night, I decided this production struck that elusive balance between tradition and experimentation. The show, set in the 1970s, features an array of musical genres and choreography styles. Drag queen, Le Gateau Chocolat, appears as Feste, and the company boldly adds modern allusions, such as a verse of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”, to the text. However, most of the text remains true to the original, and Rice includes genius homages to Shakespeare’s style. Physical comedy and farce would certainly have been used at the original Globe, as it is in this show. Rice also gives a nod to the tradition of male actors cross-dressing as female characters by casting actress Katy Owen as Malvolio.

Most importantly, the performers fed off the energy of the audience and gave us permission to laugh, jeer, “aw,” and even dance through the performance, just as the original Globe’s rowdy crowd may have done. Emma Rice’s Twelfth Night succeeds in balancing the old and the new while selling out shows for the entire season. We need artists like Emma Rice who are willing to respect tradition, but also push boundaries and make art for 2017, not the 17th century.

twelfth night

This exercise in balancing legacy and experimentation is connected to my research question for the course: how do artists balance commercial viability with artistic integrity? I thought the answer would lie in manipulating business models to make space for new theatre, in finding new monetization strategies to make up for the lower ticket revenues I assumed would accompany new, experimental theatre.

However, as the Globe’s artistic director, Emma Rice has not staged a season full of period Shakespeare pieces to make room for one new show. Rice has combined tradition with experimentation. Perhaps, I need not think of manipulating business and art separately. Maybe theatre can be new, innovative, and maintain artistic integrity without sacrificing profit.

Works Cited

Fallow, Catriona. “A Matter of Life and Death: Shakespeare and UK New Writing Industry.” Destination Theatre Lecture. United Kingdom, London. 28 June 2017. Lecture.

“Original Globe.” Shakespeare’s Globe. The Shakespeare Globe Trust, n.d. Web. June 2017.

“Rebuilding the Globe.” Shakespeare’s Globe. The Shakespeare Globe Trust, n.d. Web. June 2017.

Furness, Hannah. “Emma Rice Leaves Shakespeare’s Globe.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 25 Oct. 2016. Web. June 2017.

Alleyne, Richard. “Audience Walks out from ‘depraved’ Royal Shakespeare Company Production.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 24 Oct. 2011. Web. June 2017.

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My Journey to Destination Theatre

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Posing before my first ever dance recital

I started performing, in both dance and theatre, at a young age. I was painfully shy and hated the spotlight. I was probably the child on stage who fidgeted with her hands and stared at her feet.

However, at some point during my years of performing, I grew to love the warmth of the stage lights and the gaze of the audience. Although I was shy, when I was performing I could be someone else. I did not like to approach new people but the character I played was loud and self-assured. I crossed my arms in front of me when I walked but as a dancer, my head was held high and my movements were graceful.

I once came across the phrase, “sometimes I can hear my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I’m not living”. This line is from Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I had never read the novel so I did not know the context of the line but reading it reminded me of performing. When I was performing, I could lead all the lives I was not living. I could be the young, stubborn Prince of Denmark or channel the wild fun of Rent’s Mimi singing “Out Tonight”.

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My high school performance of Hamlet (when I slammed the poison cup down with so much force it broke in two)
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Dancing and lip-syncing to “Out Tonight” at a dance competition

I continued dancing and acting until I graduated high school and along the way, I learned to translate my confidence on stage to real life. Today, I credit every achievement to this confidence, along with the creativity and empathy I gained from performing.

In university, I have set out to explore other aspects of theatre apart from being onstage. If theatre was so important to me, it must be important to the rest of the world. Therefore, I am particularly interested in theatre’s place in society. How has society valued theatre throughout history? If part of theatre’s value today is commercial, does commercialization play a part in keeping theatre alive and thriving? Can theatre be a successful commercial venture without sacrificing artistic merit?

The Destination Theatre course explores theatre’s place in the world from a number of perspectives. I hope Destination Theatre will help me answer all of my questions but most importantly, where does theatre fit within modern society and where do I fit within the theatre world? What is my role in helping theatre evolve sustainably in today’s rapidly changing world?

This course will be my third time visiting London, England. Previously, I have learned about London’s history and visited the tourist destinations but I have yet to delve deeper into London’s rich culture. While I have seen an American musical in the West End, Destination Theatre will allow me to explore the local artistry rooted in England’s long history. For example, I am thrilled to visit The Royal Shakespeare Company and understand how artists through the centuries have kept Shakespeare’s work and memory alive. I am also excited to visit the “Peopling the Palace” festival and interact with unique, local art. I cannot wait to return to London and I could not think of a better place to study the past, the present, and the future of theatre.

Rachael DiMenna is a fourth year student pursuing a dual degree with the School for Advanced Studies in Arts and Humanities and the Ivey Business School. She studies literature, business administration, languages, entrepreneurship, and other fields through an interdisciplinary lens.