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Behind The Scenes: The Globe’s ‘The Winter’s Tale’

New Artistic Director Barry Edelstein On The Bard, Clarity, And His Globe Directorial Debut

Barry Edelstein, The Globe's Artistic Director and Director of 'The Winter's Tale'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Arts Reporter

KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando speaks with director Barry Edelstein and actor Billy Campbell about performing Shakespeare.


Barry Edelstein assumed the artistic directorship of the Old Globe at the end of 2012. But tonight marks the opening of the first play he has directed for The Globe, Shakespeare’s"'The Winter’s Tale."

Shakespeare died some four centuries ago but his plays remain vivid and timely. For The Globe's new artistic director Barry Edelstein nothing breathes more vivid life into these old texts than clarity.

"So a big part of our rehearsal process has been focused on clarity of this sort of very difficult text," Edelstein sys, "As the Globe always is, we’re blessed with an extraordinary company of American classical actors. And so I think audiences will find that the text is impeccably clear and people will understand what’s happening."

For his directorial debut at the Globe, Edelstein picked a personal favorite, "The Winter’s Tale" – one of Shakespeare genre-defying late plays.

"It’s a play about making mistakes and getting second chances and it’s humanity is extremely affirmative and heart-warming and very very joyous and I thought that would be a wonderful note on which to launch my tenure as the artistic director of the Globe. The story of the play is actually quite simple. It’s about two kings, the king of Sicilia, and the king of Bohemia. They were boyhood friends. The King of Bohemia has been visiting Sicilia for nine months, coincidentally, the King of Sicilia’s wife is nine months pregnant, and suddenly out of the blue sky, he becomes convinced the baby that his wife is carrying belongs to his best friend and that his wife has cheated on him. This sends him off into a spiral of violent jealousy," Edelstein says.

It’s not often performed because the tone is tricky. Care is needed to move it from tragedy to comedy and romance. But throughout, Edelstein always looks for ways to make Shakespeare more accessible to a modern audience.

"We’ve set it in a kind of invented modern world, modern clothes. The men are wearing suits and ties; the women are wearing cocktail dresses," Edelstein explains, "You look at a guy in a period production who’s a doctor, you don’t know that that’s a doctor but in a modern world if you put a white coat on somebody, that’s a doctor. So by dressing these characters in ways that refer to the world that you and I actually live in we can communicate a lot more information to the audience about who they are and how much rank, and status they have, how much wealth they have, what their profession is without having to actually talk about it and I find that makes the play a much more immediate, much more accessible and feel more fresh than many period productions can."

Photo caption:

Photo credit: The Old Globe

(from left) Paul Michael Valley appears as Polixenes, Natacha Roi as Hermione, and Billy Campbell as Leontes in William Shakespeare's "The Winter's Tale," directed by Old Globe Artistic Director Barry Edelstein. Photo by Jim Cox.

Casting is also key to clarity and the right actor can help an audience understand a difficult character.

"My name is Billy Campbell and I am playing Leontes, the king of Sicilia, traditionally the problem with Leontes is that the perceived problem is that his jealousy comes out of nowhere," actor Billy Campbell says.

"Harold Bloom the famous Shakespearean said that Leontes is Iago to his own Othello," Edelstein adds.

"It seems especially true, he is that he is his own Iago. And his own worst enemy," Campbell says.

"So by having Billy play this part who is so handsome and so well put together, and is like the perfect captain of the football team, suddenly have this kind of extraordinary breakdown is a dramatic journey that’s more powerful and more interesting," Edelstein says.

"The Winter’s Tale" was one of Shakespeare’s final plays and he mysteriously stopped writing four years before he died.

"And in my view it’s that he stopped because he found what he had been looking for over 20 years of his life, and what is that? In The Winter’s Tale, the answer is very clearly one word which is wonder. It is required that you do awake your faith and for me that’s where Shakespeare gets to the end of his life, awake your faith, you have to believe , you just have to suspend your rational mind and simply believe that miracles are possible , that things that are larger than simple human existence are possible , that’s the beauty of the play and that ultimately for me is the beauty of working in Shakespeare," Edlestein states.

And audiences can now experience the wonder of Shakespeare brought to vivid life on the Globe stage by its new artistic director Barry Edelstein.

"The Winter's Tale" continues at the Globe through March 16.

Companion viewing: "King Lear," "The Tempest," "Coriolanus"

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