- “It Told Us What To Do”The Anthropomorphizing of Theatre Buildings in Contemporary Practice
An early morning in April 2012. The ornate circular space of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre feels slightly muted, its colors flattened by the grey London light. Bare and unlined with people, it also feels bigger than it does during evening and afternoon performance times. The group of actors I have just picked up from the hotel and accompanied here has recovered from the initial impact of entering the space; their first reaction was a dazed, or maybe awed, silence, which has now made way for exploratory action. Some, in tourist mode, are posing for pictures. Others have already climbed up onto the high platform stage—awkwardly, as the stage manager has not yet attached the wooden steps leading up to it—and are trying out movements or gestures, extending an arm, silently mouthing lines. They are adjusting their postures to the space, still hesitant, but already standing taller as they gaze outward into the empty vertical tiers of the wooden amphitheatre. I interpret their actions as an attempt to align themselves with the space, mirroring its shape and testing its reactions.
I am here as a researcher, but I am also part of the team of Globe staff and volunteers running the Globe to Globe Festival. Over a period of six weeks the festival brings thirty-seven international theatre companies to London to perform all of Shakespeare’s thirty-seven plays, each in a different language. If this seems like an Olympian endeavor, it is: the festival is part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad, the arts program accompanying the London Games.1 The schedule is tight and each company has only one morning of stage rehearsal time before its first performance that same afternoon. A second performance will follow on the evening of the next day, by which time a new company will have already arrived and completed its morning rehearsals and matinee performance. This system [End Page 53] ensures that every day of the festival sees two different productions in two different languages.
We are back onstage, and the Globe’s resident “Master of Movement” arrives.2 She welcomes each actor individually, asking which part they are playing, making them feel as if they had been born to do just this. Eventually the group coalesces into a circle on the stage. Everyone holds hands. I am told to join in and we close our eyes. She speaks: Below you are boards made of 400-year-old oak. Above you, in the painted Heavens, is the fire of Jupiter. Feel yourself growing into the floor, receive the light from above. The architecture of this theatre supports your entire structure. It asks only one thing of you: that you come with an open heart.3 The ritual I am participating in is called “Introduction to the Stage.” It gives the newly arrived actors the opportunity to spend their first hour of stage rehearsals in the company of an experienced Globe practitioner and to explore the space through a series of exercises. She continues: The Globe is based on the proportions of your own body. If you stretch your arms out, the distance between your fingertips is the same length as your height. You form a perfect circle, like the Globe itself.4 We spread out onstage, stretch out our arms to the sides, and imagine a circle drawn around us, touching the top of our head, our fingertips, and our feet. Turn slowly around your axis and feel how the circle becomes a sphere. This is your personal space.5 We walk around the stage in our spheres of personal space, taking care not to “dent” the others’ spheres. Can you feel the circle of the theatre embracing you? Trust it, it will tell you what to do.6
“The theatre will tell you what to do.” I begin with this account of my experience of rehearsals at the Globe because it illustrates some of the challenges that the topic of architectural anthropomorphism poses. On the one hand, the idea that the theatre building as a spatial structure is able to intervene in...