What’s it like to volunteer at the Globe?

  We spoke to our volunteer stewards about their experiences at some of our more unusual events in 2019

7 minute read

Here at Shakespeare’s Globe, we run hundreds of events a year – you may be able to guess what some of them are, but others may come as a surprise. Our team of 600 volunteer stewards ensure that each one happens as smoothly as possible.

To end the year, we have spoken to four of our stewards about some of the lesser known parts of our programming; our midnight matinees, Alternative Miss World, and the 20th anniversary of Peace One Day.

Globe Theatre at sunset. Photographer: Clive Sherlock

Gemma travels a long way to steward our Midnight Matinees – but what makes them worth the trip?

As the bells of St Paul’s Cathedral chime midnight most people are thinking about heading to bed (if they are not already snuggled up and dreaming away). However, for a three very special evenings a season, the Globe is far from asleep and as those bells toll, the most magical of performances begins – the Midnight Matinée.

For me the Midnight Matinée is my favourite shift of the season – something magical happens after midnight. London falls quiet; the helicopters and planes land, the party boats dock for the night, and the river lies still. In the theatre, fuelled by caffeine, adrenaline (and a smattering of wine) the actors, audience and volunteers alike share a unique experience – Shakespeare in the early hours.

Well, yes, our role as volunteers is the same; we still check tickets, sell cushions and look after the audience. But for me, the atmosphere couldn’t be any different.

‘There is also a sense of a shared experience: that we are all an essential part of this midnight magic.’

There is a sense of excitement, of doing something out of the ordinary. Audience reactions are somehow bigger – what is mildly amusing at 2.30pm can be hilarious at 2.30am, and the reverse is also true – the true silence that falls during a Midnight Matinée heightens tragedy. There is also a sense of a shared experience: that we are all an essential part of this midnight magic.

This is not more evident than when the patrons shuffle home in taxis, night buses, and tubes. For a brief moment the yard is empty, and then it comes back to life again as the actors, volunteers and Theatre department continue the 3.00am revels with drinking, eating and (at times) dancing! The Theatre department provide food and drink as a thank you for everyone’s hard work in the early hours of the day, and some volunteers choose to bake something, or bring a bottle of something special (I love a post-midnight matinee glass of prosecco!). It’s a great chance to chat to your fellow volunteers, exchange a few words with the actors, and experience the joy that is the Globe family, before provided taxis whisk you home.

We don’t just put on Shakespeare’s plays: over the years the Globe has also hosted the Alternative Miss World. Graham reflects on his experience of this year’s beauty pageant, entitled ‘Psychedelic Peace’.

Beginning in 1972 in a small flat in North London, the sculptor Andrew Logan couldn’t have dreamed that he would be hosting an event that is more eagerly awaited than the ‘original’ Miss World, of which his creation is a pastiche.

For volunteers, the evening started at 6.00pm with the most unusual briefing from our Visitor Welcome Manager, Pippa. Pretty much anything goes this evening (apart from the usual rules around glass in the theatre, keeping stairways clear, and nothing hanging from the balconies). Photography was to be expected, even encouraged, from the crowd that had gathered – some of whom had booked as far back as 9 months ago!

Six thirty arrived and very quickly, the piazza filled up with people very much intent on enjoying themselves. We had Maypole Dancing to amuse whilst waiting for the Globe to open. When it did, it was a small trickle that made their way in, more interested in finding/chatting to friends, than entering that hallowed ‘O’. Eventually 7 o’clock came and we had the start of our evening. Introductions by the host Andrew Logan of Sara Kestelman, co-host, and the judges, including Jarvis Cocker, Grayson Perry and Zandra Rhodes, followed by some poetry readings and remembrances of some forgotten icons – Fenella Fielding and Derek Jarman amongst others. A Mass Meditation preceded the main event.

What followed will take too long here to detail, but suffice to say the evening lived up to its subtitle of Psychedelic Peace.

We were entranced by so many dazzling and bizarre costumes – think Notting Hill Carnival, the very best (or worst) pantomime dame, the most outrageous costumes imaginable, and you are getting close. Don’t forget the general Miss World format with daywear/swimwear/evening wear, and those all important lifestyle questions.

‘We were entranced by so many dazzling and bizarre costumes – think [of] the most outrageous costumes imaginable and you are getting close.’

The winner?

Didn’t really matter, it was the taking part and the being there that was important.

The evening finished for us volunteers around 11.00pm, with a bit of a struggle to get out through the piazza, as it seemed like all of the 1500 patrons were queuing to get into the after show party – which was expected to finish around 4.00am on Sunday morning!

Actor and Peace One Day ambassador Jude Law, with founder Jeremy Gilley.

Peace One Day returned to Shakespeare’s Globe to celebrate its 20th anniversary. The day included panels on sexism and cyber non-violence, as well as Words of Peace in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, an event that featured great dramatic or historical speeches that have inspired change.

Stuart and Judy share their experience of the evening celebration in the Globe Theatre, which featured performances from Sting, Emeli Sandé, Jack Savoretti and many more. 

What a privilege to volunteer at the 20th anniversary of Peace One Day in the Globe Theatre! After our usual briefing and completing our routine checks of the fire evacuation routes, we moved on to checking our position for the evening in the upper north gallery and were able to observe the final preparations for the evening’s entertainment – quite different from watching the actors warm-up routines before a play.

When clearance was given from stage management, the doors were opened and our audience stared to pour in. We enjoy watching the groundlings running in to grab their favourite spot in the yard, excitedly anticipating the evening’s entertainment. One of the best things about stewarding at the Globe is seeing people’s faces and reactions when they first enter our wooden ‘O’ and see the beauty of this special theatre. Photography for this performance was encouraged, meaning that our role was to ensure that the audience were safe and having the best time!

The celebration itself was incredible. Hosted by Mark Rylance, an ambassador for Peace One Day, the audience were entertained with amazing performances by various celebrities.

‘One of the best things about stewarding at the Globe is seeing people’s faces and reactions when they first enter our wooden ‘O’…’

Launch of Peace One Day at Shakespeare’s Globe, 1999.

However, for me, the highlight of the evening was listening to the inspirational Jeremy Gilley, founder of Peace One Day. To hear how he started his campaign in his bedroom and launched his campaign in the Globe Theatre twenty years ago in front of less than fifty people, and see how much he has achieved since, culminating in this celebration in front of over a thousand people was just amazing and inspiring.

The other highlight was listening to Citizens of the World Choir. The choir is made up of people who are refugees, asylum seekers, migrants and friends.

The celebration ended with all participants on stage. It was obvious from the audience reaction that everyone had enjoyed a fantastic evening and were quite reluctant to leave and go home – but we had to close the theatre and prepare for the next day’s entertainment!

Citizens of the World perform in the Globe Theatre, 2019.