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'Prattle and practice': Globe Education's work

As Peter said, I'm standing in for Patrick Spottiswode of Globe Education for no other reason than he's my boss and he asked me very nicely to do this. Many people know of the Globe Theatre project, a reconstruction of Shakespeare's primary playhouse, in South London which was started by Sam Wanamaker. The theatre is now running and this summer will be its fifth full season. Fewer people know of Globe Education, the history of which I'm here to report as well as telling you about the future plans which have a considerable amount of web and other electronic media in them. More of that in a moment. I should say that I'm not here to report about or defend the theatre project itself, although obviously my working there indicates that I think it's a good thing, which not everyone on the political left does.

In the first scene of Shakespeare's Othello, Iago describes Michael Cassio as "a Florentine, / A fellow almost damned in a fair wife, / That never set a squadron in the field / Nor the division of a battle knows / More than a spinster - unless the bookish theoric, / Wherein the togaed consuls can propose / As masterly as he. Mere prattle without practice / Is all his soldiership". The title "Prattle and practice" chosen by Patrick Spottiswode for his presentation on the work of Globe Education must, I presume, refer to the tension between "bookish theoric", or "prattle", in the matter of Shakespeare studies, and the "practice" of theatrical performance. It is an old tension, as Virginia Woolf observed in her review article "Twelfth Night at the Old Vic" (1933), in which she identified three classes of Shakespearian critic: i) those who prefer the page, ii) those who prefer the stage, and iii) those who "rush between the two gathering plunder". Reading Richard Dawkins The Blind Watchmaker on the flight over here, I noticed that in the preface he acknowledges his debt to "the Oxford tutorial system", which caught my attention because a couple of weeks ago John Stokes, head of English at King's College London, was telling me why he thought the tutorial system a terribly lazy way for university lecturers to work; it was a system he was glad to see the back of. I never experienced this system, either as a student or a university lecturer, but nonetheless the student/staff ratio in classes when I was student in the early 1990s was considerably lower than when I entered the profession as a lecturer in the late 1990s, and not only--as you might be secretly thinking--because I was taught at a better place than I could get a job in. Unlike my tutors, I was expected as a lecturer to teach Marlowe's The Jew of Malta not in a study full of books but in a classroom and to not 3 or 4 students but 20 or 30. And with those numbers of students, the rooms provided had to be fairly large, indeed almost big enough to make a small theatre. To dispel the appalling sense of being back at school, the obvious trick was to clear a large space on the floor and teach the drama standing up--putting the play on its feet as some of my Globe colleagues call it--by having students take parts, read them aloud, and discuss what they thought their characters meant by what they were saying. Inadvertently, the pressure of class size had forced me into a way of teaching which I now would not give up, one which at best unites "bookish theoric", or "prattle", with the practicalities of performance.

Such unifying of prattle, talking about the works of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, with practice is what Globe Education seeks to promote by collaboration with like-minded parties and by its own courses. Globe Education was established in 1989, eight years before the Theatre itself opened, and it had from the beginning the brief of developing classes, workshops, and courses in Southwark, and more widely to establish the first of the three legs of Shakespeare's Globe stool: education, theatre, and exhibition. In 1989 Globe Education ran its first semester-long undergraduate course for students from St Lawrence University and from James Madison University, thanks to support from Tom Berger and Ralph Cohen.

In 1993 Globe Education instituted a series of Staged Readings of lesser known plays from the period. There were two reasons for doing this: to invite actors who supported the cause to ply their craft rather than simply to turn up to receptions to endorse a 'product', and to counter fears that Shakespeare's Globe would be Shakespeare-centric. In fact the naming of the organization "Shakespeare's Globe" rather than simply "The Globe" was in order to differentiate it from a pub (there are a few of that name in London), and to differentiate it from another theatre called "The Globe" in Shaftesbury Avenue. Actually, Patrick has given me two reasons but I'd like to add a third which, if it wasn't obvious then is certainly obvious now, which is that the non-Shakespearian drama is inherently interesting in its own right, whether or not it happens to throw light on the Shakespeare's plays These plays were performed more often than were Shakespeare's in the Globe and Blackfriars theatres of his day. I should say something about what happens in Globe Education Staged Readings, which tend to be considerably more frenetic than their sedentary-sounding name implies. The actors receive their script during the week, typically on a Wednesday or Thursday ahead of a Sunday performance. At 10am on Sunday the actors meet and under the direction of a co-ordinating practitioner they have a read through. Generally there is only time for one group read through. At 3pm that same Sunday the actors perform the play, holding and reading their scripts but in all other respects acting it, on the stage of the Bear Gardens theatre--roughly a mockup of a indoor hall playhouse of Shakespeare's time--where Globe Education started.

The first staged reading was Dekker and Webster's Westward Ho! starring Tim West, Sam West, and Pru Scales. (Incidentally, calling them Tim, Sam, and Pru is a particularly refined kind of name-dropping, implying that I am on first-name terms with these famous actors. I am not, but since Patrick called them Tim, Sam, and Pru in the notes which he shoved in my hand, we must assume that Patrick is a friend to the stars.) This first Staged Reading was an unashamed attempt to pull in an audience and it worked--the readings in the first season were sold out and and queues formed for returned tickets. Globe Education decided that this season of stage readings, which included Nathan Field's Amend for Ladies should be but the first, and Patrick Spottiswode set a rather large target: Globe Education was going to audio record the stage readings and over a period of at least 30 years, do every one of the non-Shakespearian plays from 1567 to 1642, whether surviving in printed or handwritten form, which were performed by professional casts. Depending on how you count these, there are about 370 plays. So far, Globe Education has done more than 60 of them, as well as staged readings of three new plays, three commissioned translations of plays by Ariosto, Lope de Vega, and Lessing.

In 1996 Mark Rylance was appointed as artistic director of the theatre company at Shakespeare's Globe and he has championed the non-Shakespearian repertoire. (Actually, it is no secret that Mark thinks that even the Shakespearian drama is non-Shakespearian, but thankfully there are no moves to rename it Bacon's Globe or De Vere's Playhouse.) Every year until this one the theatre company has put a non-Shakespeare play in the repertory, and I've met no-one (yet) who saw last year's production of Richard Brome's The Antipodes (printed in 1640) who did not think it a splendid validation of that policy. Regrettably, plans to do The Birth of Merlin and Hengist, King of Kent (or The Mayor of Queenborough) were cancelled late in the planning of the current season, and this year will be the first to have just three Shakespeare plays: Cymbeline, King Lear, and Macbeth.

The staged readings led to the creation of the Globe Quartos series of playtext publications which were supposed to be "lightly edited" editions of the non-Shakespearian plays for the public attending the performances, and these are now available further afield thanks to Nick Hern books. The current editorial board is Gordon McMullan, Tom Berger, and David Scott Kastan and I think it is fair to say that what is meant by a "lightly edited" text has undergone some considerable discussion: recent editions were, and new ones will be, rather more meticulously and scholastically edited that some of the first ones. Currently underway are editions of A Shoemaker, a Gentleman, King Leir and his Daughters, The Wise Woman of Hogsdon, Hengist, King of Kent, and The Late Lancashire Witches. Actually, that last one (which I'm editing) won't be called The Late Lancashire Witches but rather the name it had on the stage. There is of course a distinguished tradition of restoring stage names, as with Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor giving back the name All is True to Shakespeare's Henry 8 and, I understand from my former colleague at De Montfort University Julia Briggs, giving the name The Lady's Tragedy to what has long been known only by George Buc's invented title, The Second Maiden's Tragedy, in the new Oxford Complete Middleton. The Late Lancashire Witches is the title given the published book of the play to distinguish it from earlier stories of earlier Lancashire witches--it was a publisher marketing device to indicate that the women concerned were the real women still in prison when the book was published--so I'll be calling it The Witches of Lancashire as did the eyewitness Nathaniel Tomkyn's who saw it at the Globe in 1634.

The Stage Readings and the Globe Quartos are the first steps in Globe Education's mission to encourage the study and performance of the lesser-known plays. Globe Education wants to develop this idea by building a database about the non-Shakespearian drama and connecting this to a web-page providing access to the information free of charge from anywhere in the world. Obviously as a minimum this database will record authors and titles of plays, dates of first performance and publication, subsequent performance and publication before the Civil War, the names of the companies which performed the plays and the playhouses (or other venues) they were played in, and similar basic data. But the Staged Readings of 60 plays which Globe Education has already produced have thrown up much more data of more complex kinds: we have casts lists, information about which roles can be doubled, we have plot summaries produced for the programmes, and we have the entire readings in digital audio format. A theatre company in, say, Australia might be considering doing a non-Shakespeare drama and want to know which ones can be played by just 10 actors and which have, say, parts for a doctor and for two fairies. In the form of a properly managed relational database, the information we have could direct them towards The Wisdom of Doctor Dodypoll. Martin Wiggins of the Shakespeare Institute of the University of Birmingham told me a couple of weeks ago that he has been thinking of such a database for some time and has compiled about 10% of the data, and Globe Education intends to collaborate with Martin by developing the right kind of electronic database to hold the information (it will be a MySQL database running on a Linux webserver, for those interested in the technical side) and we will be developing the right kind of web-page search engine to allow non-specialist users to ask such questions "which plays have 3 female parts, interact music, and a scene of drug taking?" and to do that by filling in a form on a website. The response for the webserver will be not only the name of the play, but whatever supplementary information we have on it (plot summaries, genre, etc); and there's already a better than one in six chance that it will be one of the plays which Globe Education has produced a Stage Reading of, so if we can arrange the legal niceties of performance rights, there is no reason why we should not stream the entire audio recording to the enquiring web user. Such a database about the non-Shakespearian drama could usefully also be connected to a notice board of information about forthcoming and past productions of the plays, such as is already provided by the Shakespeare Institute website.

What I have talked about so far have been the theatre-practice and theatre-research related elements of Globe Education's work. I should say something about the teaching. Globe Education provides courses which aim to share its experience and discoveries with persons of almost all ages, practically that is from about 8 years of age to any time in adulthood. Much of this work is aimed at teachers working in schools with young people. Rather than create the ubiquitous and frankly bland "teacher's pack" for each production by the theatre company, Globe Education decided instead to enable schools and colleges to 'adopt' one of ten actors in the Globe company and to follow that actor from the first day of rehearsal to the final performance, and to do this primarily via the web. The teachers thus effectively create their own pack rather than receiving one. As well as receiving transcripts of interviews with actors distributed over the Globe's website, the students at around 100 schools and colleges are able to take part in live video conferences which take place once a week; the actors are asked directly by the students about such matters as how they approached the character which they are performing, what ideas arose in rehearsal, which ideas were useful to their work of representation, and how the play (and their part in it) has changed during the run. These 'adoptions' are extremely popular with students, and of course it is our duty to prevent them being a burden on the working actors. This year Mark Rylance has put himself up for adoption--he is will probably be a popular choice--and we have extended the project to include members of stage management and theatre designers so that the entire production process related to drama of the period can be explored by students who might otherwise be limited to primarily a text-based experience of the play with perhaps the occasional visit to a working theatre. Practical matters such as costuming design and choice of fabrics are already part of this project, but will be extended this year by direct involvement of the non-performing artists whose work goes into a production. As well as a periodic interviews and video conferences, Jaq Bessell of Globe Research produces reviews of each season at its close and these are published on the Globe website.

In the notes which Patrick Spottiswode passed to me almost as I got on the plane there is a paragraph about my own appointment, and it is of course much less embarrassing to have someone speak about you than to speak about yourself, but I'm honour bound to fill Patrick's shoes so here goes. I was appointed as the Globe Education lecturer last summer primarily to develop a Masters degree to be taught in association with King's College London, who were kind enough to elect me a research fellow. This masters programme, "MA Shakespearean Studies: Text and Playhouse" is now running with an extremely healthy number of students--more than enough to pay for hiring me. Like the other work of Globe Education, my module taught at the Globe concentrates on the routine production matters which would have been the daily practices and the daily chores of a playing company in Shakespeare's time, and to explore these using facsimiles of those documents (playhouse 'plots', actors parts, playbooks, etc) which have survived. Thus the students consider the histories of playing companies and their venues, and how they approached the   tasks of commissioning plays, casting them, learning their lines, rehearsing, staging the plays, reviving them, and, occasionally, getting them printed. For this last question the Globe is particularly lucky to possess a replica of a common handpress of Shakespeare's time, and students are able to do their own printing using reasonably accurate replicas of the technologies of the time and thus to find out for themselves the kind of errors which can be made in casting off manuscript copy, in compositing with movable type, in proofing and correcting of test pages, and in folding and binding paper sheets. The teaching opportunities of the Globe project really are quite remarkable. I mentioned at the start that I've never been a student or a teacher within in the tutorial system, and I must say I have in the past wondered if I would like to be. Now that I am able to teach workshops about original staging on a full size reproduction of an open-air playhouse, I really cannot complain about my institution's facilities. As well as the students on the MA, I teach undergraduate courses for students visiting from American universities: St Lawrence and James Madison Universities have since been joined by Notre Dame, University of Denver, and University of Connecticut. Finally on Patrick's list of 'brags' about Globe Education he put that forthcoming the Hamlet on Screen conference which I have organized with Tony Howard from University of Warwick and which takes place on Saturday 28 April. In keeping with the electronic theme which runs through this session, I should mention that the conference proceedings will be published by a online journal, EnterText, produced by Brunel University and we intend that this web-based publication will have for each paper which used video clips to illustrate a point made, the actual video footage streamed to the reader's web-browser. Those who have seen the Shakespeare on Film issue of the online journal Early Modern Literary Studies which does the same thing will know how much more one can get from a paper about film if one can immediately see the clip under discussion and can watch it repeatedly to look for the features to which the author is drawing one's attention.

So, to the conclusion. Sam Wanamaker was adamant that the Globe should provide an international resource for study and performance. The web is enabling us to share our discoveries much further afield than he could have imagined. Our mission is to share discoveries made through and from experience and practice, to provide opportunities for conversation between practitioners--actors, directors, designers, composers--with students and scholars and the general public around the world. Their prattle is always based on  practice. Unlike the togaed, or is it tongued?, consuls, they have more than "bookish theoric" and they are willing to share their experience of the actor-audience relationship and the architecture that is peculiar to the Globe. Globe Education would value suggestions as to how we might develop the web pages further for the benefit of undergraduates and scholars.