I am sure by this late hour of 6:00 pm EDT, everyone must be aware that today is the observed 450th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth. This morning I caught a story on NPR about Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London embarking on a 2 year odyssey to perform Hamlet in every country in the world. There was discussion in the story about the hazards they may face in places like Syria, Central African Republic and Ukraine where there has been either recent or ongoing unrest.
My first reaction upon hearing they were going to perform Hamlet was wondering why they chose to present the longest of the plays. Sure there is a lot of exciting action, but there is also a lot of brooding.
But it appears that they have trimmed the show down to 2:40 and perform on a bare bones stage with 12 actors. I thought about this in connection with Shakespeare’s Globe Artistic Director Dominic Dromgoole’s comment that,
“We’re going to be very free and open. The set is basically the suitcases that the whole thing travels around in, so it spills out of its own suitcases. And we’re going to be playing in some very prestigious national theaters in some countries, but we’re also going to be playing on beaches on Pacific islands. The idea is that it’s infinitely adaptable to wherever we want to put it up.”
I actually hoped that their plans were to set up in front of or in the parking lots of some of those prestigious national theaters instead of inside them. Dromgoole talked about how a tour of Hamlet was performed on a boat off the coast of Yemen in 1608, noting that the play was always meant to be performed on tour in the manner they are undertaking.
My thought was that it would be a pity if they were performing on beaches and village squares only when there was a lack of a “proper” facility. Looking at the schedule it does appear that they are performing inside the bulk of the time.
As a person who has worked outdoor Shakespeare festivals and music events, I can understand the desire for a stable environment to perform in as you try to keep your world tour on schedule. You can’t perform in places like the Copan Ruins in Honduras every night.
As we have often discussed, the thing that has allowed Shakespeare to endure for 450 years, and will allow the arts to remain relevant, is to bring it to where the people live. I had hoped there would be more of that.
I will admit to being a little self-centered. When I saw that they would be performing around the world on a rudimentary stage, I hoped they would keep a detailed blog so that I could gain insight into how different peoples interacted with the show when it appeared on their streets, without a lot of effort on my part. I was interested to learn where people would stay to watch; where they might wander in and out of the audience; where they might actually wander around curiously behind the stage.
These observations might provide ideas for how to make the attendance experience more interesting for our own audiences. I don’t know that we would get as much of that in the more controlled theatre environment.