My first encounter with the Shakespeare’s Globe education department was more than 20 years ago when I took a party of Kent schoolgirls to London for a day with the charismatic Patrick Spottiswoode. He has been leading learning on Bankside from the very beginning when Shakespeare’s Globe itself was still just a determined twinkle in the ageing Sam Wanamaker’s eye. Spottiswoode joined the Globe in 1984 and became its Director of Education in 1989 — although the iconic thatched building wasn’t opened by the Queen until 1997, four years after Wanamaker’s death.
They started the Education department in advance almost as a symbol of what was planned for the future — and happen it did. The girls and I looked at exhibits and enjoyed a wonderful, unforgettable workshop with Patrick in a building a few yards from where The Globe now stands in all its glory.
Education has always been at the heart of Shakespeare’s Globe. In education circles we talk about policies being “grafted in” rather than “bolted on” and Globe Education is a splendid example of the former — it’s fundamental and integral to what the venue does. Today there’s even a splendid separate building for education and rehearsal, in the form of The Sackler Studios.
Among the many projects and activities I’ve observed and written about over the years, the Read Not Dead programme is a particularly interesting one because it has played such an important role in developing emerging talent.
This popular series stages readings of the surviving plays written by Shakespeare’s contemporaries between 1576 and 1642 - a time that would be considered a golden age of British theatre even without the works of Shakespeare. And it’s about to hold its 200th event, with a staged reading of Massinger’s A New Way to Pay Old Debts on September 23.
Almost 1000 actors have performed in the series since it began in 1995, many of them making their professional debuts or appearing early in their careers. Among those to have taken part are Daniel Craig, Carey Mulligan, Jason Isaacs, Anne-Marie Duff, Samuel West, Rebecca Hall and Ben Whishaw. Audiences attending performances can therefore justifiably hope to see early performances from some of the stars of the future.
The events are a fast-paced theatrical experience with the company meeting, rehearsing and performing a play in a single day. This requires the actors to develop their performances and improvisation skills quickly and to think on their feet. They also have the opportunity to work alongside more experienced actors and directors and benefit from their advice.
Among the audience at the 200th performance will be many of the people who have helped to make the series such a success over the last 17 years and who continue to lend their support, including actors, directors and academics.