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Shakespeare's Globe Theater Is Finally Back in Business

Landmark: The circular facility, which burned down 383 years ago, offers 'The Two Gentlemen of Verona.'


LONDON — It's been a long intermission--383 years.

The blare of trumpets from the $45-million reconstruction of William Shakespeare's circular, open-air Globe Theater Tuesday heralded the first performance since the original burned down in 1613.

As actors warmed up for a short season of "The Two Gentlemen of Verona," staff members anxiously watched for signs of tempests above the painstakingly rebuilt wood-and-thatch construction on the south bank of the River Thames.

"I am like a fisherman, watching the Thames, watching the skies," artistic director Mark Rylance said.

Just in case, plastic raincoats will be on sale for $3 at the relaunch of Shakespeare's famous "wooden O," as the chorus in "Henry V" describes it.

Apart from the fanfare from a balcony above the stage--a tradition dating from Shakespeare's day--there will be little razzmatazz.

No celebrities have been invited to this production of "Two Gentlemen," which runs through Sept. 15 under the direction of English actor Jack Shepherd.

Eighty-five percent of tickets have been sold, Rylance said, well above the number the 1,394-seat venue needs to cover the $800,000 cost of the opening run.

For the right to be a "groundling" standing on the floor of the theater costs $7.50; $18 to $24 buys a seat in the terraces.

The Globe's first full season begins in May, with a "Globe ensemble" of performers acting four plays in repertory. Performances will run from May to September 1997 and will include works by writers other than Shakespeare. The gala opening is set for June 14.

Rebuilding the Globe was the vision of American actor Sam Wanamaker, who in 1970 established a trust to raise funds for the project. Construction began in 1993, the year Wanamaker died at age 74.

The completed site will include a Shakespeare museum and education center and a second, 300-seat indoor theater built from plans by Elizabethan architect Inigo Jones, the architect who introduced the proscenium arch and movable scenery to the English stage. That will open on Sept. 21, 1999--the 400th anniversary of the first recorded performance at the Globe.

The project is still $10 million short, and in an unusual request critics have been asked to pay for their seats at performances of "Two Gentlemen."

Just 200 yards from the site of the original, the new Globe is a faithful copy right down to the Norfolk reed roof, the oak beams, the hand-turned balustrades--and the rope and bucket used for "special effects." As in Shakespeare's day, large iron balls will run down a channel behind the stage to simulate thunder.

The reconstruction has no sound equipment. Lighting "will mimic daylight, as most performances in Shakespeare's Globe took place in the afternoon," said Globe publicist Lucy Beevor.

The temporary stage made of plywood and scaffolding will be replaced later with an oak one and the floor will be lined with a layer of ash and nutshells, a quiet, absorbent covering found in the remains of the 16th century Rose theater nearby.

For modern reasons of safety and comfort, the new Globe will accommodate just half the number who crammed the original to cheer or toss fruit at the sumptuously dressed members of Shakespeare's company, known as the "King's Men."

Once the Globe is fully operational, it is expected to finance itself.

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