Old Globe Looks To Shakespeare For Inspiration To Surviving Coronavirus
Theatre quickly moves to online programming
Monday, April 20, 2020
Theaters rely on doing live performances but the coronavirus pandemic has forced them to close their doors and find new ways to deliver content and find audiences. The Old Globe Theatre quickly moved three strands of its programming online.
San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre is no stranger to adversity. Its theatre burned to the ground in 1978 but rose from the ashes to open again. And its namesake, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, faced a pandemic not unlike the one we face today.
"I've been turning to Shakespeare a lot and not just because the writing is so glorious and beautiful and uplifting and happy-making, but also because he’s a theater artist who knew what it was like to have his theater shut down by disease," said Barry Edelstein, Old Globe Theatre artistic director. "It happened multiple times during Shakespeare’s career. And you know what? The theater’s always reopened."
But unlike London’s Globe Theatre of the 1600s, the one in Balboa Park has technology at its disposal to put programming online even while the theater itself is shuttered. So very quickly The Globe put up arts engagement programs like Behind the Curtain; artistic output with Act Breaks; and humanities programming like its online book club. But not every theatre company has a Shakespeare scholar in house but Edelstein is one and he’s offering an online version of his Thinking Shakespeare demonstrating how to bring Shakespeare’s language to life by looking to his sonnets.
"One of the real strange things about this moment is that in our first week of operation online, we had 12,000 views of our material," Edelstein said. "So if you add up the capacity of all three of our auditorium in Balboa Park, times eight performances a week, you don't get to 12,000. That is more people who have seen our online work than in Balboa Park."
These are all programs run and initiated by the Globe, but the theater is also participating in a nationwide program called Play at Home to commission playwrights to create 10-minute plays.
"These are not plays that would ever be produced and in fact, the instructions to the playwrights were don't worry about having it produced so if you want suddenly 15 unicorns to come running through, do it," Edelstein explained.
So playwright Gill Sotu came up with "The Terrible Case of Miss Locks" and set it in a jungle with animals.
"So what it's about is Baby Bear is put on trial because he attacked and ultimately killed Goldilocks. She was intruding in the house…but she was an intruder. So that's what the trial is about, whether it was murder or whether it was just, you know, defending his home," Sotu said.
His play along with many others can be downloaded for readings at home.
"I have this overwhelming feeling of joy that art is persisting even though we're isolated," Sotu said. "If this was like 20 years ago or 30 years ago, when we didn't have the technology to match the demand. Now we already have the technology in place before all this happened. So people are still able to embrace art."
Arts organizations like the Globe are in a unique position.
"All these non-profit theater organizations, these arts organizations around the country, are driven by values were non-profits," Edelstein said. "We're not following some commercial impetus. We're actually following an ethos of public service and of public good. And so if the circumstances change, we still have to hew to our missions and provide art as a public good."
And of course Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 has a perfect line to address this.
Edelstein quotes the sonnet: "'So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, so long lives this and this gives life to thee.' And that ‘this’ refers to Shakespeare's poetry in that case but I'm going to use it to refer to theater."
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