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Video Interview: Old Globe Hires New Artistic Director

Barry Edelstein, New Artistic Director, The Old Globe
Old Globe Hires New Artistic Director
GUEST: Angela Carone, KPBS Arts Reporter

CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park is of course named after the original Globe theatre in London, in which William Shakespeare premiered many of his plays. Now it seems Shakespeare will be a forceful presence at our old globe with the appointment of a new artistic director, famous for his interpretations of Shakespeare's work in New York City. KPBS arts reporter Angela Carone tells us about the new appointee, Barry Edelstein. And welcome. CARONE: How are you? CAVANAUGH: Very well. Now, this appointment was announced last night. What do we be about bary? CARONE: Well, he is a prominent director and producer. He comes from the public theatre in New York City where he oversaw their renowned Shakespeare program, which includes the famous free Shakespeare park, it's said he's directed half of the Shakespearean cannon, I think that's up to 40 now. So it's said that he's also directed a lot of classic and new plays. He's an east coaster, born in New Jersey, went on Oxford, he was a road scholar, lived and worked most of his life in New York City. And he did spend a few years living in Santa Monica. So the California lifestyle won't be a complete shock to him. [ LAUGHTER ] CAVANAUGH: That is impressive. I know that you spoke with him yesterday. What did he say about his vision for The Old Globe? CARONE: Well, as I said, this is someone who's steeped in Shakespeare. That's his specialty. But he's directed more nonShakespearean plays over the entirety of his career. He's working right now on a new American play. But hearing him talk about Shakespeare and theatre in general, it reminded me of one of my former Shakespeare proves in college, you know? These very passionate, eloquent about it, very romantic about the way theatre can transform people. And he said he thinks Shakespeare is the house writer at the Globe, kind of ground zero, and the pivot point for all the other plays. So listen to him, here's what he had to say about what will guide him in putting together a season at The Old Globe. NEW SPEAKER: I think each artistic director of his or her institution puts the proportions together differently. Somebody may like more emphasis on musicals, new writing, but what I learned over the years of my career working in all these different aspects of the theatre is that the most important thing is to set everything up somehow in conversation with Shakespeare. So the Shakespeare play sitting in this magnificent theatre here is somehow talking to the new musical that's in this case about a very dark and complicated episode in American history, while Shakespeare is talking about how history impacts the lives of individuals. And so is this musical allegiance. So somehow the otheristic process is in a wonderful resonance together. And to the extent that there's a recipe, it has to do with that, making sure that the whole program of work is talking to -- piece is talking to the others. CAVANAUGH: That's fascinating. So yes, in a sense, Shakespeare is going to be the baseline for him as he assembles his whole cannon of what he presents at The Old Globe. Now, some people love musical, some love drama. He is obviously a classicist. Did you get a sense of the kind of plays he'll choose? CARONE: Well, when you have someone so steeped in the classic, a knee jerk reaction might be that this is not a risk taker. Not that there aren't risks to be presented in choosing Shakespeare. But is he going to take a risk on the bold new work and development that new work? We don't know that yet. But The Old Globe has staged some challenging plays recently in that not all audiences like, like August O. Sage County last year, but they've also done a lot of sugary musicals. I asked him if he would take risks. NEW SPEAKER: I hope I would be brave enough to take risks like that, yeah. Once again, the special position that an institution like this is in is that it really has to take into account a very wide variety of tastes and interests. So I think it's about a little bit from column A and a little bit from column B. And as the audience comes to trust one's tastes because one of the things that an artistic director does, primarily, is to exercise his taste in public, people say, yeah, I like what that go is doing. Now he's doing something that I'm not sure will be for me, but I trust him, and I think the work they're doing is excellence so I'll give it a try. CAVANAUGH: He comes with not only a pedigree from Shakespeare in the park but he's worked with some very big names and entertainment. CARONE: Heck of a rolo dex! Yeah. He's produced and directed plays with Gwyneth Paltrow, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, al-Pacino. And that helps grow an audience. And people like to come to the theatre and see actors that they recognize. He said he couldn't wait for his appointment to be made public so he could get on the phones and start working his contacts! He also emphasized how important it is to give local actors opportunity to the globe stage. And this is not something the theatre has done a ton of in the past, outside of the USDgrad students who work in the festival, and some of the more prominent local actors. So I'm curious to see what he does there. CAVANAUGH: Moving away from the appointment as it were, there hasn't been an actual artistic director at The Old Globe for a while. Can you explain that? CARONE: Yeah. It's a little complicated. The former CEO and executive producer who resigned last year, he served as both managing and artistic director during the last few years of his tenure. He fused the two together. And that's pretty unusual. The industry model is to have a managing director who looks over the finances and operations and an artistic director who takes care of the artistic vision of the theatre. And commissioning new plays and so forth. And there's supposed to be a healthy tension between the two, one that helps rein in the kind of artistic vision and remain viable financially but also pushes to take risks. So with Edelstein's appointment, the globe is going back to that new model. Mike Murphy is new the managing director, that was announced in April. Of the other thing is there haven't been that many artistic directors over the theatre's 77-year-old history. You had the founder, then Jack O'Brian there for 28 years. Then you had this coartistic director, two people serving, Jerry Patch. So a long tradition but not a lot of turnover. This is a monumental thing. CAVANAUGH: And looking for a new artistic direction might give the Board of Directors time to think about what they want for the theatre. CARONE: It tells us they want to go back to that dual -- they think that is the viable leadership model, to have the artistic director and financial director on par with each other. We know that they wanted somebody -- or it seems clear they wanted somebody who was going to protect the legacy and work with Shakespeare and the classics. The other thing is I think they wanted someone who was going to be an arts leader in this community, who was going to be present. Who was going to be the face of the theatre, who was going to be actually working in the community, working with other artistic leaders, to be a real presence here. And not someone who was going to shake things up too much. I think we'll see some daring there, I hope. But he's not -- as he said, I'm not going to be a revolutionary but rather an evolutionary figure. CAVANAUGH: When does his tenure begin? CARONE: November 1st. So quickly. He's in New York finishing up a play, then he's back here November 1st to start.

Barry Edelstein begins his post as artistic director on November 1st. He comes to The Old Globe from the Public Theater in New York City where he oversaw that theater's renown Shakespeare program, which includes the free Shakespeare festival held in Central Park every summer.

As a director and producer, Edelstein is considered one of the leading experts in the country on the plays of William Shakespeare. He is said to have directed half of the entire Shakespearean canon.

A theater like The Old Globe, with an annual Summer Shakespeare Festival on an idyllic outdoor stage, appealed to Edelstein, a theater artist who sees the Bard as central to his artistic vision. "What I’ve learned over the years is the most important thing to do is set everything up in conversation with Shakespeare, so that the Shakespeare play on the festival stage is somehow talking to the new musical on the other stage," explains Edelstein.


The Old Globe has been without an artistic director since last October when CEO Lou Spisto resigned. Spisto served as both artistic and managing director at the end of his tenure. Most theaters separate the two functions. In April, the Globe appointed Michael G. Murphy managing director. With Edelstein's appointment, the dual leadership model will be reinstated at the 77-year-old theater.

As artistic director, Edelstein says he’ll stage a mix of both accessible and challenging plays. "The special position of an institution like [the Globe] is that it has to take into account a wide variety of tastes and interests. So I think it’s about a little bit from column A and a little bit from column B."

In stints at New York City's Classic Stage Company (as artistic director) and the Public, Edelstein developed a reputation for casting big-name film and television actors like Uma Thurman and Philip Seymour Hoffman. "People like to see actors that they know and I certainly will be inviting them [to perform at the Old Globe]," says Edelstein. "I can’t wait for news of my appointment to be made public so I can start working the phones."

Edelstein says he also wants to see San Diego actors on the Globe stage. "I think it’s important that the Globe serve the local artist constituency."

While at the Public, Edelstein led a program that brought Shakespeare to underserved communities in prisons and homeless shelters. "Watching Shakespeare in a maximum security prison for women was the most powerful experience I've had in my career," says Edelstein. Talks are already underway, he says, to reach out to similar communities here in San Diego.


Edelstein is the author of two books on Shakespeare. Published in 2007, "Thinking Shakespeare" was called "a must-read for actors" by New York Magazine. His more recent "Bardisms: Shakespeare for All Occasions" offers quotes for life milestones and celebrations.

Edelstein is a graduate of Oxford University, where he studied as a Rhodes Scholar.