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Globe to Globe: Shakespeare plays presented online in 36 different languages

  • Date: 27 November 2012
  • Artform: Theatre
  • Area: International, London
Actress performing on stage All's Well That Ends Well performed in Gujarati by Arpana at Shakespeare's Globe. Part of Globe to Globe Festival, 2012, Ellie Kurttz

Between April and June 2012, 36 Shakespeare plays were performed at the Globe by 36 theatre companies from around the world in their own language. Using public funding from the National Lottery through Arts Council England these were filmed and broadcast online on The Space, an innovative new digital arts service created by Arts Council England and the BBC.

Background

The 36 resulting films include a Gujarati All's Well that Ends Well, A Turkish Anthony and CleopatraLove's Labour's Lost in British Sign Language, and the Henry VIs as a 'Balkan trilogy' by the national theatres of Serbia, Albania and Macedonia.

Created in just six weeks by many of the world's greatest directors and over 600 multi-national actors, the performances were shown to audiences everywhere on The Space as part of the World Shakespeare Festival for London 2012.

Challenges

This was a highly ambitious project for Shakespeare's Globe and Tom Bird, Festival Director for the Globe, admits that 'the major challenge was paying for it.' The expense of filming such a large number of live events necessitated working very quickly, employing, 'an economy of scale in recording so many shows in a short space of time, and using a live edit with a very brief post-production tidy.' So each day for six weeks, a different theatre company arrived at the Globe to perform a Shakespeare play and a week later, a high-definition film was made available online - a new play every day. The first, matinee performance was used for preparation, with the film crew taking notes, and the second, evening performance the following day was filmed, with a live edit taking place in the Globe's own editing studio.

Each theatre company had barely any time to rehearse on the Globe stage prior to performing, but choosing, says Tom, 'the finest and most adaptable groups performing Shakespeare globally' allowed the theatrical work to run smoothly. And the fact that the Globe has a pared down approach to theatre - encouraging companies to employ language, costumes, music and movement rather than large sets or technical wizardry also limited much of the theatrical risk.

Outcomes

The Globe chose to make the films available online to reach more people and generate new audiences for Shakespeare. By broadcasting them on The Space, the total audience figures increased tenfold from May to October 2012, over and above the 3000 physical capacity of the venue.

The Globe also hopes to attract new audiences to its work. In reference to Dhaka Theatre's Bangla production of The Tempest, Tom commented 'If you're Bangladeshi, and you can't get to the Globe, this made it possible, and also made Shakespeare available to someone in the Bangla language.' He also points out that, according to 2009 Office of National Statistics, one quarter of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets are Bangladeshi. 'We hope that inviting Dhaka Theatre, the most prestigious theatre in Bangladesh, to perform The Tempest at the Globe to Globe festival will engender a new audience from this area'.

As well as being of huge interest to audiences unable to attend the festival, the final films serve as an educational resource for students and academics. The Globe will add the huge archive and library of Shakespeare plays  to their existing video archive, allowing students not only to engage with these timeless stories, but - crucially - to recognise that these are stories that invigorate the whole world. They will also provide an unparalleled resource to theatre makers and academics engaged in examining performance styles and interpretations of Shakespeare from every continent.

Peter Kirwan, Shakespeare expert and academic at the University of Nottingham said  that for six months, the films on The Space contributed to some of the '...best Shakespeare resources around.'

The final product is first class, says Tom,' The films look fantastic and we now have a massive wealth of good work which is down on film for posterity. Without funding this wouldn't have been possible.'

The exclusive service The Space provides has successfully given global audiences unique access to live and full length performances of Shakespeare's plays free and on demand, which otherwise far fewer people could have enjoyed, providing a lasting legacy for generations to come.

Public funding from the National Lottery through Arts Council England made filming of the arts activities in this case study possible.

Find out more about National Lottery funded arts projects.