For more than half of his life, Sam Wanamaker’s passion was to rebuild Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London.
Today, Shakespeare’s Globe thrives in downtown London, thanks to Wanamaker’s relentless dedication. As a functioning reconstruction of an Elizabethan playhouse in the borough of Southwark, the Globe pays tribute to William Shakespeare’s contributions to the theater, to literature and to preserving the beauty of the English language.
The modern-day Globe is an open-air venue built about 750 feet from the original site. It is an interactive museum, a source for literary education and research, and a functioning playhouse.
Fire codes made it impossible to build the contemporary version of the Globe to exact specifications. Otherwise, the reconstruction is an academic approximation based upon available evidence from theaters dating to 1599 and 1614.
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Plays are performed during daylight hours and in the evenings using a thrust stage that projects into a circular yard where the “groundlings” stand. The only covered portions are the stage and three tiers of raked seating. Amazingly, the Globe is the first and only thatched roof building in the city of London since 1666.
Stage techniques and sound effects are created just as they were 500 years ago. There are no speakers, amplification or spotlights. Music is performed live using period instruments.
Capacity is slightly more than 850 in seating areas, plus 700 more in the pit for the groundlings, who were approximately half of the patronage during Shakespeare’s time.
Using mortise and tenon joints, the Globe incorporates authentic 17th-century architecture. No structural steel was used in the design.
The Globe became the dream of American actor Sam Wanamaker when he traveled to London for the first time in 1949. Visiting the site where the theater once stood beside the River Thames, he was dismayed to discover that all that remained was a dingy marker at an abandoned brewery.
Despite nearly insurmountable objections by local government, Wanamaker persevered and finally established the Shakespeare Globe Trust to rebuild the theater as close to the original site, and as historically accurate, as possible.
The Globe opened in 1997 with a production of Shakespeare’s “Henry V.”
Wanamaker never witnessed the results, however. He died of prostate cancer in 1993.
Theater details: www.shakespearesglobe.com.