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Designing Shakespeare - Audience, Actor and Space

Engaged audience participation before, during and after the performance has been a feature of the Globe Theatre since its inception. Not only does this theatre force the audience to think about the question of original practices it places the audience in the centre of a practical experiment based on a number of assumptions about the period.

The Director and Designer working at the Globe

The audience in the Globe Theatre becomes an active part of the performance. This is something that Mark Rylance as Artistic Director has encouraged and considers one of the greatest strengths of the theatre:

I guess The Globe has taught me even more respect for it: here you are aware of how much Shakespeare kept the audience in mind and what a difference there is when an actor is able to do that too... Often all the energy has to come from the stage - everyone else is in darkness, passive in their seats; but here, the audience isn't divided by darkness from the actors. That makes them integral to the action - as powerful, if not more so, than the players.
(Rylance in Shenton Sunday Express, 4.8.02)

This active involvement of the audience has helped to illuminate the plays in the minds of some of the theatre artists working at the Globe. Associate Designer Jenny Tiramani says of the production she designed of Hamlet in 2000 (view images of this production here).

On the first performance at The Globe it suddenly, it just changed. I mean it transformed and, you know, it was fabulous. And it's because, I think that the soliloquising was so clearly not an actor talking in a spotlight to empty air, but was actually an actor talking to, well in Shakespeare's day 3,000 people and saying 'my soul, you are my soul, you are my conscience, what should I do?'(Jenny Tiramani interview extract taken from Designing Shakespeare )

Other Designers' Views of the Globe

Others theatre designers working outside the theatre have reservations about the Globe as a performance space. Sally Jacobs says of the theatre:

I think it's a marvellous place to visit for academic reasons. It's been beautifully done but I find it. it would be a bit of a strait jacket for doing a production because it instantly imposes that particular way of working and certainly the last time I saw it the stage was brightly coloured, you know, faithfully copying the way it might have been. And it was too intrusive on the work. (Sally Jacobs interview extract taken from Designing Shakespeare)

Chris Dyer, Associate Artist with the RSC and currently Head of the Theatre Design programme at Wimbledon School of Art says of the Globe Theatre:

The groundlings seem to be in direct contact with the performers and the performers use the groundlings to play off to the gallery. I mean that's just house style at the moment but it is as if you are removed from the play if you are sitting in a gallery and you kind of watch it through someone else, if you like. (Chris Dyer interview extract taken from Designing Shakespeare )

A house style, as Dyer points out, has in fact developed quite quickly at the Globe to manage the interaction with the audience. This is a style that seems to draw as much on contemporary practices of street theatre and pantomime in Britain as it does on the recreation of the original performance tradition. Of course how close these two traditions might be is hard to determine. As Rylance points out: 'perhaps theatrical instincts about what is needed to engage an audience haven't changed that much'( Sunday Express, 4.8.02).

The Audience at the Globe

As You Like it 1996 - Click to view a larger imageRegardless of ones position on the justification of the Globe's theatrical experiments the availability of visual resources to build an argument on either side are extremely useful. In particular the use of the edge of the stage, the stairs leading up to the stage and the groudlings space can all be elucidated with visual images. For example in the 1998 production at the Globe of As You Like It the wrestling scene was conducted in the middle of the groundlings. The images clearly illustrate the responses of the audience members to the action in their midst.

This use of audience involvement has gained the almost grudging admiration of critics such as Dominic Cavendish writing in the Independent:

Not only do the Globe's bare-boards necessities force the audience's imagination to work overtime, they also have the effect of turning the spectator into a kind of player: you can't be a passive bystander, you have to participate in the mock Tudor gusto of it all. ( Independent , 1.6.98)

3D Glove - A VRML Model - Click to view the 3d globeAs Cavendish states the audience relationship established forces greater participation for those in attendance. It is not possible to be a passive groundling, both the mind and body of the spectator must be engaged. The use of visual images and also three-dimensional models of the stage space, like the one created by Chris Dyer as part of the Designing Shakespeare Archive can convey to readers of critical work a much great sense of the theatrical event.

Production Summaries


Page 5 of 7
Introduction page 2 - Visual argument page 3 -  Politics and performance of place  page 4 - Character Current page page 6 - Conclusion page 7- Step by Step guide

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