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Last night, a friend asked me what do I think of the Globe’s new policy of letting the audience choose the play they’ll see…

My friend says I perked up, all hare-like – which is a gross exaggeration, but still I won’t deny I was fascinated and perplexed in equal measure: “What? The Globe? Have they announced the new season? Did the new artistic director say that? But how are they going to do that? What does it mean, letting the audience choose? In advance? By voting? And what if the audiences always choose the same play? And what of those who wanted to see something else? What if there’s a tie?”

My friend had no idea, actually: he just saw the headline, and thought it would be fun to throw it at me…. and yes, it would seem that I took bait.

Still I was very curious, and this morning I sought light on the matter – and found that yes, the Globe’s new artistic director, Michelle Terry, announced that not only “some audiences” will be able to choose “now and then” between three plays – but casts will also decide who plays what… Terry calls it a democratisation of the artistic process – which is, to her mind, too director-centric. From now on, at the Globe, actors will be called in not knowing their roles, and then will decide the distribution together; directors will co-direct; actors will have a say in the directing… are you terribly surprised to learn that Terry herself is an actor, with no directing experience?

I’ll admit that my theatre experience is not enormously wide, but I can’t help having misgivings: most of the directors I’ve worked with are, deep underneath*, Prospero: how would they like it for their Calibans and Ariels to speak up at every turn, make crucial decisions, and generally share in the use of their magic cloaks? And are actors certain to make wise casting decisions? True, there is a certain sort of gravity, leading towards a rational distribution of roles within any given cast… this is how I imagine it would have worked with Elizabethan companies, where there was no director, and choices were made by the sharers. Then again, this might mean that, given an ensemble and a play, the casting is more or less already obvious – and then Terry’s idea is to dress up mostly foregone conclusions as a “democratic” process. And if I’m wrong about this, isn’t there quite a good deal of room for squabbling and oneupmanship?

I guess that very clear and strict rules will have to be drawn – but I don’t know. About other areas of her new policy, Terry was surprisingly (alarmingly?) vague. When asked how the choose-your-own-play thing will actually work, she answered that it is all still to be seen… Really? Perhaps it is just as well that the method is to be restricted to “some audiences” and “now and then”. And since much the same haziness seems to surround the Globe’s new diversity policy, I have to wonder just how firm is the ground for Terry’s “democratisation” of directing…

Really, I don’t know – and I’m very curious. I can’t wait for my next trip to London, to see how Hamlet and/or As You Like it work under these conditions. I do have misgivings – but… let us wait and see.

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* Or not so very deep, in some cases. But then again, those who aren’t at all are not always as effective as they might be…

 

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