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Globe’s Sam Wanamaker theatre revealed

Published 27 November 2012

Shakespeare’s Globe has announced that its new Jacobean indoor theatre will be named The Sam Wanamaker theatre in tribute to the venue’s founder and his original vision to create the unique space.

Revealed at a launch held today to announce details of the project and allow invited press to take a sneaky peek at the work in progress, the Bankside venue’s Artistic Director Dominic Dromgoole confirmed that the first performances to the public will take place in January 2014 with the theatre’s premiere season to be announced next April.

Wanamaker’s original plan when he founded the Shakespeare’s Globe Trust in 1970 was to replicate Shakespeare’s own theatre company’s model of working in two houses; an outdoor amphitheatre in summer and an indoor playhouse for performances in winter. The Sam Wanamaker theatre will now make this dream a reality with plans set to programme between October and April each year and extend Shakespeare’s Globe’s repertoire to focus on Shakespeare’s contemporaries as well as, as Dromgoole put it, a “smorgasbord of other things” including music, comedy and events.

Based on original Jacobean designs for an indoor theatre discovered in Worcester College Oxford in the 1960s, award-winning architectural firm Allies and Morrison are now redeveloping Wanamaker’s original existing building, which sits alongside the alfresco space and has been used since 1997 for rehearsals and educational workshops, to create an archetypal 17th century theatre, following extensive research over the past two years into everything from how it should be decorated to how the acoustics should sound.

The 340-person capacity space, which will be lit predominately by candles during performances, will include the Globe’s signature standing pit – for which the theatre plans to offer tickets for £10 – two tiers of galleried seating, including premium seats where people can sit near the stage, and an elaborately painted ceiling. The building will also house a rehearsal space in the attic.

Speaking at the launch today, Dromgoole said: “We want to explore that practice of playing both in winter and summer and both indoors and outdoors to expand massively the repertoire of plays we can perform… to be able to investigate the theatre practice of that age. We’ll be able to look extensively at the costume and make-up of the period, how all of those things affected how they made theatre in those days. We hope that the theatre will throw a spotlight of illumination on the plays themselves in a way that this theatre does… there’s a waterfall of insight that pours out of any production just from seeing it happen within this architecture and within this relationship between the actor and the audience.”

Dromgoole praised Wanamaker and former Artistic Director Mark Rylance for hardwiring a “spirit of innovation” into the Globe, calling the project “an experiment” and explaining: “We’re doing it as a leap into the unknown… we’re building it because we think it will be beautiful, we think it’ll be fascinating, we think it will open people’s eyes to that culture, but exactly how it will be used, there’s an infinite number of different ways in which it could be used in the next 20 years, we won’t know until we build it, but we build it in huge hope.”

As part of the project, the existing foyer spaces will also be redeveloped in order to offer more space and to better serve the Globe’s million plus yearly visitors. The cost of the building work in total will be £7.5 million, with no funding from the government or Arts Council, the venue instead relying totally on generous support from individuals, foundations and trusts, to whom the theatre said they were “extremely grateful”.  A further £1 million is still to be raised.

Dromgoole’s attentions however are more focused on artistic rather than financial developments, telling Official London Theatre after the launch, “You just hope and pray that [the theatre] is everything that it can be, that audiences get a major thrill out of it, artists love playing here, that the acoustic is strong; I think if you get those things right, if that’s at the front of your head, then the money will follow.”

Describing the project as “thrilling”, the director told us: “I think we all dream when we come and work at places like this that we’ll be able to leave something behind and the idea of leaving a new theatre behind or being part of the team that creates the new theatre is wonderful. It’s an experiment, it’s a risk, it’s bold, but we hope that if the pay-off is anything like what the payoff has been like with the Globe then it’ll be a great benefit to a large number of people.”

Elaborating on his programming plans for the new venue, Dromgoole said: “Initially the policy will be first and foremost to look at Shakespeare’s contemporaries and widen our repertoire, secondly to understand Shakespeare’s late plays and the shows that were written specifically for an indoor theatre and then third, who knows? I think there are limitless possibilities in here once it’s opened, it could be good for new plays, it could be good for all sorts of installation performances.”

The Sam Wanamaker theatre will lead the acclaimed venue into a new era, something which Dr Farah Karim-Cooper, the leader of the Globe’s Architecture Research Group, eloquently voiced at the launch, saying: “What this will enable us to do is to enable the scholarly community to come in and research the full gamut of Shakespeare’s work. We’ve been telling one side of the story for 15 years; we’re now hoping to tell the other side.”


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