Shakepeare’s Globe Theatre, a reconstruction of the famous London venue where the Bard’s plays were first seen, is under threat of closing permanently because of the economic devastation left behind by the COVID-19 lockdown.
The London theater—a circular, half-timbered structure with a thatched roof (the only one permitted in London!) and a stage and audience pit open to the sky—opened in 1997, having been built according to historic specifications of the original Globe, which burned down in 1613. (In a nod to modern audiences, a few comfortable anachronisms were added to the building: bathrooms, a small museum, an indoor theater space, a café, and a shop.) The theater’s reconstruction and its educational mission were a passion project for actor Sam Wanamaker, and it operates as a nonprofit without government funding. The Globe temporarily closed in March due to the coronavirus lockdown, but now its future is in danger.
You can help. The Globe is asking for donations, and memberships, and for supporters to help it by shopping through smile.Amazon.co.uk, which shares a fraction of the price of your purchase with it. From May 23 through May 25, some friends of the theater have also organized Read For the Globe, a livestream read-a-thon fundraiser of 16 Shakespeare plays.
The theater pledges to keep ticket prices low (40 percent of the tickets for performances cost just £5), to continue to invite school groups and nerdy adults (like us!) for workshops, and to stream their productions online for subscribers all over the world. In return, you can introduce schoolchildren and theater skeptics to the vast, entertaining wisdom of Shakespeare. And each time you head to London, you can revisit the landmark playhouse on the south bank of the Thames, and experience that tingly anticipation that bubbles up in the pause before a play begins.
The Accidental Matinee
Toward the end of our guided visit to Shakespeare’s Globe, as we sat on benches, sheltered from the March snow falling into the open-roof interior of the theater, the tour guide mentioned that he had to finish up quickly because a production was starting soon. By this point in the tour, I’d asked enough questions that my companions were used to the embarrassment so I asked what the production was.
“Romeo and Juliet,” the guide said. “It’s a modern-dress production for schoolchildren. It’s free. If you want to see it, you should check at the box office on your way out.”
On this gray and snowy London day, I had dragged my sister and her two young children and my own just-teen daughter to the Globe, first down from their family’s flat in Marylebone to St. Paul’s, and then across the Millennium Bridge. (“Just like in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince!” I cheerily urged them on as the wind and snow thrashed us.) I was trying to prepare myself for a visit cut short because no one else was as excited as I was. But I was determined to see as much as I could before someone was too hungry or bored to go on. No one had audibly griped yet, miraculously, and everyone perked up a bit to hear about the prospect of a play.
We hurried to the box office and were handed five tickets. The clerk said the seats were upstairs in a covered box, and then added conspiratorially that it was, in fact, the Royal Box where Queen Elizabeth would have sat back in Shakespeare’s time. Armed with paper cups of hot chocolate, we headed to our box, regally positioned above stage left.
When the first actor arrived, skidding into position on the thrust stage while riding a BMX stunt bike, a transformation began: All three kids leaned forward and watched with their chins resting on the railing. The snow flurried around the poor groundlings, the audience members who watched the play while standing in the pit beyond the stage. The snow fell on the actors, too, through balcony scenes and duels, and on Juliet in her drugged slumber. (Death lies on her like an untimely frost / Upon the sweetest flower of all the field.) Our little troupe sat spellbound on the comfortable, almost warm bench with cocoa, a view of the action below and of the digital supertitle display above, and slowly, over the next two hours, three unsuspecting children became fans of live theater.
Thanks to good acting and whatever residual fairy dust is left in that hallowed ground (or hallowed ground-adjacent ground—the original Globe was about 750 feet away), the “wooden O” converted cold and hungry kids into rapt theatergoers, members of a tribe, eager to see their next real play. —Ann Shields, Managing editor, travel guides
Much Ado About a Ring
When I was 14, my best friend went to London on a family vacation and saw Twelfth Night at the Globe. As a fellow drama geek and self-proclaimed Shakespeare nerd, I was hugely jealous. The souvenir she brought back for me curbed the envy a little: a replica of a ring excavated from the Rose Playhouse, another Elizabethan theater nearby where Shakespeare’s plays were performed and where he likely acted himself. (The Rose was also the setting for Shakespeare in Love, one of my favorite movies.) The ring had a shorthand French inscription translated to “Think of me, God willing.” I loved that ring—it felt like it connected me to a playwright I admired and an important part of theatre history. (See? I wasn’t kidding about the nerd thing.) I wore it every day until I somehow lost it sophomore year. It’s probably collecting dust somewhere beneath a row of lockers in my high school gym. I vowed then that someday I would go to the Globe myself, see a play, and buy another replica of that ring.
Eight years later, I hadn’t forgotten about my Globe mission, and I still really loved Shakespeare. So I was sure to buy tickets to see a show during a summer trip to London with a friend. The day of the play, tiny giggles of joy periodically erupted from me. I was going to see a SHOW at THE GLOBE! But as our lunch unexpectedly ran long due to some slow-going crepe griddles, anxiety started to replace the elation as I realized we might be late to the play. By the time we made it onto the Tube, I was a nervous wreck. At every stop, I checked my watch; my legs bounced restlessly. What if they wouldn’t let us in late? What if the Tube was delayed? I’d been on enough New York City subways to know that was a thing. At London Bridge Station, I shot off the train and speedwalked the half-mile to the theater, weaving through crowds, not caring much whether I’d left anyone behind.
Of course, all my nerves were for naught. We made it with time to spare, and as we walked up to our covered seats in the balcony, I tried to soak in every detail. There, the ornate columns holding up the stage roof, painted to look like marble! There, the groundlings—audience members who paid for standing-room-only ultra-discounted tickets—in front of the stage! A hush fell over the crowd and I savored the quiet moment right before a play is about to start, when everyone’s expectant faces are turned toward the stage in bright anticipation. My smile could not have been wider. Much Ado About Nothing began, and I fell into the witty repartee between Beatrice and Benedick. I laughed at the antics of constable Dogberry and sighed at the joyful reunion between Claudio and Hero. I’m sure the production would have been great had it been in any other space. The actors were first-rate; the production top-notch. But seeing the play as Shakespeare wrote it, in the space designed almost exactly as his audiences would have seen it (with access to much nicer bathrooms, granted) made it so much more special. For nearly three hours, I was transported.
After the final applause died down, we stopped at the gift shop. To my delight, the replica ring was still in stock, nearly a decade later. My Shakespeare fandom mission was definitely accomplished. With the Globe’s future so uncertain, the souvenir’s message carries a slightly different meaning now as I wear it: “Think of me, God willing.” I will, dear Globe. I will. —Sara Button, Assistant editor