Our executive director, Katherine Mayberry, discusses Shakespearean Theater and reconstructed playhouses.
This weekend, Pigeon Creek is performing for the second time at the Rose Playhouse at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp. Blue Lake built the Rose in 2010, primarily for the use of the middle school and high school students who come to camp every summer. An article about the building of the Rose can be found here. To have this building in West Michigan is remarkable, and our actors count themselves incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to perform on this stage.
Reconstructions of Early Modern English Playhouses are extremely rare. The most famous of the currently existing reconstructions is Shakespeare’s Globe in London. There are also reconstructed Globes in Rome, Tokyo, and Dusseldorf, Germany. The American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, Virginia, has a reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Blackfriars, the indoor playhouse in which Shakespeare’s acting company performed in the early 1600s. Shakespeare’s Globe is currently working on building their own reconstruction of an indoor playhouse. These are playhouses which by and large seek to recreate the performance conditions of Shakespeare’s lifetime, making concessions to modern safety standards but not incorporating modern theatre technology. Beyond these, there are a number of theatres in the world whose architecture is inspired by Early Modern playhouse architecture, but which also incorporate significant modern theatre technology, such as advanced theatrical lighting systems and the ability to change sets rather than have one unchanging backdrop which is a permanent part of the theatre architecture. Theatres such as the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre at Navy Pier, or the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Swan Theatre in Stratford, England, belong to this second category.
Pigeon Creek is a company which since its founding has worked within the constraints of Early Modern performance conditions. A list of some of those conditions is available here . Among Shakespearean theatres, this approach to performing the plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries is often called “original practices” or “original staging practices.” Typically, Pigeon Creek is working with the original staging practices common to the touring companies of Shakespeare’s time period, who performed in places like innyards and the great halls of noble families’ houses. When we take a production on tour, we have to quickly adapt to new spaces, and make our performance fit the space. We always make it a priority in any space to find ways for our actors to do the direct audience contact that is so central to the philosophy of performance within which Shakespeare was writing. In a playhouse like the Rose, we find that the theatre’s architecture is already designed to encourage this kind of interplay between actor and audience. The stage thrusts out into the audience’s space, so that the actors are surrounded by audience members rather than being separated from them. While the Rose is relatively large (though not as large as London’s Globe), each individual audience face is clearly visible from the stage, and an actor feels able to converse with anyone in the playhouse.
Just to brag a bit, and to demonstrate what a rare and wonderful thing this playhouse is, I like to point out that the actors whose work focuses on doing Shakespeare in this particular way, and who get to work on these kinds of reconstructed stages, is extremely small. Our audiences who come to Twelfth Night this weekend will see, to my knowledge, the only four actors in the world who have worked on the stages at Shakespeare’s Globe, the American Shakespeare Center’s Blackfriars Playhouse, and the Rose at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp. Even if we only focus on two out of those three playhouses, the Blackfriars and the Rose, the group of actors who have worked on both stages rises to just seven, and again, that group will be at the Rose this weekend.