All the world's a stage ... especially this little bit in London
Today for my British Life and Culture class we toured The Globe! Shakespeare’s theater! Well, the building is actually a reconstruction not quite on the original site, but it is still an open air theater in the round and has London's only thatched roof since the Great Fire.
For the first part of our tour we sat in the theater and learned about its history and admired the thatched roof (currently being repaired). The original theater didn’t have any blueprints, or at least none still existing, so the reconstruction is built as similarly as possible to the original based on outside writings describing it. The main difference now is lighting (so plays can be done at night) and the concrete floor rather than compacted dirt for the standing room only audience. Apparently some of the best (and therefore most expensive) seats in the house were actually on the stage, up above the actors on a little balcony. The only problem of course, was that the view was mostly of the actors’ backs! So why pay extra for these seats? Because then the audience could see you too and know how rich you are!
For the second part of the tour we sat in a room downstairs which was much warmer and definitely more comfortable. Our guide was very informative; he knew a lot about the business because he used to be an actor and is currently a director. We learned about the origins of some words, like an actor’s “role” or “part” in the play. In Shakespeare’s time, an actor was not given a copy of the entire play to read while preparing for the performance. Instead, he only received a short (sc)roll with his “part” of the play. (This was to keep actors from selling the work to others because there were no copyright laws back then.)
Plays didn’t run for very long in the same location, so new plays were always being written and performed to keep the audience coming back. The actors only had a few days to memorize their lines, and only a few hours to rehearse. Since the actors only got their part and not the entire play, they only had a three-word warning on their scrolls before they knew to speak their lines. They didn’t know who spoke the lines before them, or for how long, so they really had to be paying attention in order to make everything work. They also had to pay attention carefully because it was the other actors’ lines that told them what actions they were doing – ie holding someone’s hand or dying slowly and painfully. This went for the audience as well who had to be told via the lines if it was day or night, hot or cold, etc. So the entire performance was a huge collaboration between everyone in the theater!
Shakespeare’s work was meant for hearing, not reading, and the audience had to determine what he meant by just listening to the actors. For example, he used some tricky phrases such as “adieu” or “a dew” and “good night, good night” or “good night, good knight.” Clever, huh?
After this lecture we had to do it ourselves. Four people went up to the front and were given lines with just the three word warning before them, and they had to perform having never read the script before. We in the audience were given a script as well, and it was funny because one of the girls up front began reading her lines but didn’t realize that the audience was supposed to say them too, so she was definitely surprised when we all started speaking at the same time!
Overall I thought it was a very cool field trip. I’m sad that I never got to see a play at The Globe, but the theater isn’t open during winter because it’s just too cold without a roof. It’s definitely on my list for next time though!