What follows is a glimpse into the rehearsal space and the processes of rehearsing A Midsummer Night’s Dream 2.2, in a production intended for young audiences at the outdoor, reconstructed space of Shakespeare’s Globe on Bankside, London.
This production was part of the Playing Shakespeare series, inaugurated by Globe Education in 2007 with sponsorship from Deutsche Bank. Since then, more than 50,000 secondary school students in the UK have received free tickets to one of these professional productions performed at the Globe in early March and seventy percent of state secondary schools in London have taken part. Director Bill Buckhurst and Producer Chris Stafford kindly allowed me access to the rehearsal room one afternoon to observe and take notes.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the Shakespeare play most explicitly concerned with rehearsal practice. The “Mechanicals” ostensibly perform the rehearsals of an amateur acting troupe in an outdoor space. Rehearsal, in this Playing Shakespeare production, was further employed as a pedagogical springboard and was used to stress the fact that both learning and rehearsing are processes, not outcomes. Rehearsal is both constitutively porous and necessarily un-finished; it explicitly seeks creative engagement and contribution. Child-centered learning, the ethos informing Globe Education work, sees learning as a process that is most effective when driven by the creative engagement and contribution of students. Drama workshops with schools explored the potential themes to be established and choices to be made in the production. Students were also encouraged to follow an online “Backstage Diary” that documented the rehearsal [End Page 565] process—and were invited to contribute set and costume designs. The central spread of images in the program was entitled: “Inside the Rehearsal Room.” The particular framing of this production as one for young people and at the reconstructed Globe Theatre is thus important in a consideration of its rehearsal process.
Performance at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre invites contribution and engagement in ways that are worth considering briefly. As an open-air, day-lit (or otherwise equally-lit) space, the Globe Theatre is a porous performance environment with none of the opportunities for controlling focus and dictating effect that other modern theatres, with lighting and sound technologies as well as comfortable, forward-facing seats, have. Without the control facilitated by such modern technologies, performance at the Globe can never be a “finished” product, a closed and final outcome of rehearsal, the sort of theatrical product that may elsewhere be sought at the culmination of rehearsals. Instead, the visible audience and their engagement and contribution, which vary from performance to performance, are always significant aspects of the performance text. Focus and attention are won and sustained in the moment through interactions between actors and audiences, corresponding less to a mode of fixed, polished and repeatable presentation and more to an ongoing and negotiated work of engagement and shared contribution. Rehearsal, [End Page 566] for a production at the Globe, must therefore establish a variety of performance strategies that can be deployed to produce “atmosphere” and guide focus (particularly in the absence of technologies of lighting and sound), whilst also anticipating the kinds of engagement and contribution that the production might seek to play with in the various moments of eventual performance.