In today’s Wall Street Journal “Sightings” column I discuss the controversial departure of Emma Rice, the outgoing artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe. Here’s an excerpt.
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Shakespeare’s Globe is a reconstruction of an open-air playhouse at which Shakespeare performed, built on the site of the original theater, which was demolished around 1644. Ever since it opened in 1997, the Globe has presented low-tech daytime productions that endeavor to reproduce the conditions under which plays were performed in Shakespeare’s day: no lighting, no amplification. Some of the productions were mounted in the manner of Elizabethan theater, while others were contemporary in style, but all stuck faithfully to the same “shared-light” principle that is also used at the American Shakespeare Center’s Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton, Va., another noted Elizabethan-replica theater. In such theaters, the audience does not sit in darkness but is fully illuminated by the same light as the onstage actors.
Ms. Rice, who became the company’s first female artistic director earlier this year, is an avant-gardist who goes in for gender-bending casting and has confessed to not knowing all that much about Shakespeare and not liking much of what she knows. She therefore took it upon herself to install a temporary lighting and sound rig, which she used to enhance productions of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Cymbeline,” the latter directed by Matthew Dunster, whose texts were rewritten to suit her political preoccupations. (Mr. Dunster’s “Cymbeline,” for instance, was retitled “Imogen” and set in gangland Britain.) Both shows received mixed reviews but sold well, and it seems to have been generally thought that her first season was a success.
Then the blade dropped: The Globe announced in a news release that Ms. Rice would be departing, even though her work had “brought our theatre new and diverse audiences, won huge creative and critical acclaim, and achieved exceptionally strong box office results.” Why? The board decided to return to “‘shared light’ productions without designed sound and light rigging…this should continue to be the central tenet of our work.” A general meltdown followed, with Ms. Rice’s supporters in the press furiously declaring that the Globe had opted for anti-feminist stick-in-the-mud conservatism over radical innovation….
It seems plausible that the news release was nothing more than the truth: Ms. Rice sought to change the Globe’s production style in ways that were profoundly antithetical to its institutional mission. But her approach was already a well-known quantity when she was hired….
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Read the whole thing here.
A trailer for the Shakespeare’s Globe production of Imogen: