Globe Theatre Research article

Original Practices at Shakespeare's Globe

This #MuseumFromHome Day, we delve in to our Archive & Collections to take a look at our experiment with ‘Original Practices’

4 minute read

‘Original Practices’ refers to a unique and radical experiment that was generated at the Globe and used historical performance to transform modern theatre practice. The reconstruction of a Shakespearean amphitheatre was premised on the idea that it would provide the ideal context for testing out what academics knew of early modern playing conditions. This led to an exceptional partnership between research and creative practice during Mark Rylance’s Artistic Directorship (1995-2005) in an attempt to discover and recreate Shakespeare’s company’s working practice.

‘Original Practices’ was exploratory and experimental in nature and so some of the investigations worked and some of them didn’t. This is a brief guide to elements of ‘Original Practices’ through our Collections.

A man holding his hands up to his face stands in the Yard of the Globe Theatre, surrounded by audience members.

The biggest success of ‘Original Practices’ was the discovery of the relationship between the audience and actors, here the audience are a vital component in a performance of Antony and Cleopatra in 1998. Photographer: John Tramper.

Actor and Audience relationship

The biggest success of ‘Original Practices’ was the discovery of a new relationship between the audience and actors. Unlike conventional theatres where the audience is in darkness, everyone can see and be seen at the Globe and this led to a unique interaction with actors. Actors can speak directly to an audience member or respond to the reaction of the audience. This creates an intimate experience where the audience becomes a vital component of the performance.

A man sits at a dressing table, applying thick white makeup

Mark Rylance applies white face-paint for his role of Olivia in Twelfth Night. Photographer: John Tramper.


The cosmetics used in the ‘Original Practices’ production of Twelfth Night attempted to simulate the aesthetic of Shakespeare’s time and evidence found in English Renaissance portraits. It was impossible to use the authentic ingredients for the white face-paint of the early modern period as this was made using white lead and vinegar. An equivalent was researched and white pigment mixed with chalk and almond oil was found to be a similar and safe option. Professor Farah Karim-Cooper has equated the white mask cosmetics used for of Mark Rylance’s Olivia with portraits of Elizabeth I. The Wardrobe Notes also reveal the simple solution found for representing early modern blusher by crushing up pink children’s chalk.

A document detailing how chalk was used in the make up process.

The Wardrobe Notes for Twelfth Night also reveal the simple solution found for representing early modern blusher by crushing up pink children’s chalk.

A man lays 'dead' on the Globe Theatre stage in the arms of another man.

Music became an active part of performances, used to highlight action for emotional effect, as during Hamlet (2000). Photographer: John Tramper.

Music of the Spheres

Claire van Kampen, as Musical Director, was instrumental in developing new ways of using Early Modern music in the theatre. Against the contemporary filmic use of music, which employed music to highlight action for emotional effect, music became an active part of the proceedings. The musicians were often on stage, becoming part of the plays, or were otherwise centrally placed in the Musicians Gallery, literally between the world of the gods of the Heavens and the earthly stage to signify the Music of the Spheres. Music was not only heard but seen and only incorporated reconstructions of period instruments with no amplification or electronic aids. The ‘Music Archive Cover Sheet’ for Hamlet (2000) shows the thinking around the role of music. There was experimentation with music for the Ghost’s entrance. At first a subtle approach was taken with just a vibraphone and rotobell but they found that people laughed. They introduced an underscore to accompany the entrance and the audience responded in a dramatically different and hushed manner. We don’t know whether this was something to do with the change of audience sensibility or that original staging practice used sound effects.

A document listing the music in Hamlet.

The Music Archive Cover Sheet for Hamlet shows the thinking around the role of music and experimentation for the Ghost’s entrance.

A backstage view of the Globe Theatre, wear a woman helps a man get in to his Elizabethan dress.

In the ‘Original Practices’ production of Twelfth Night, the Tiring House was open so the audience could see actors getting ready. Photographer: John Tramper.


Jenny Tiramani was in charge of the Wardrobe and the design of the productions. As early modern performance focused on what the actors were wearing, rather than elaborate sets we see in modern theatre practice, her explorations went into the clothing. Mark Rylance wanted to wear clothes that had the same integrity as the reconstructed Globe. The building was made of oak and plaster and he asked Jenny to apply the same principles to the costumes. She based her research on existing Elizabethan and Jacobean clothing only used the materials and techniques of that period. All actors were dressed in full Shakespearean clothes, starting at a smock, through to being laced into gowns or doublet and hose. The clothing affected the actors’ posture and breathing and created a different dynamic. To emphasize this process, in the ‘Original Practices’ production of Twelfth Night, the Tiring House was open so the audience could see actors getting ready.

A man wearing a green corset dress sits on the Globe Theatre stage.

Mark Rylance as Cleopatra, in Antony and Cleopatra (1999). Photographer: John Tramper.

Actor sitting powerfully in a thrown

Kathryn Hunter as the titular role in Richard III (2003). Photographer: Donald Cooper.

All-Male and All-Female Casts

In Shakespeare’s time all cast members were male with female characters being played by boys. Women were not allowed to perform on the stage as it was judged an unseemly profession for women, until after the Restoration in the 1660s. The Globe decided not to use boys to play women, but men did take the parts of women in all-male casts. Mark Rylance famously played female parts, including Olivia in Twelfth Night, 2002 and Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra, 1999.

In a post-feminist era, there was a backlash against using all-male casts as part of the ‘Original Practices’ experiment. Mark Rylance’s response was to initiate productions that had all-female casts but used elements of ‘Original Practices’, such as the clothing. The first featured Kathryn Hunter as Richard III.

A programme listing the names of the cast and creative team.

Cast and Creatives list from the programme for Julius Caesar (1999).


‘Original Practices’ elements extended to how the creative team were named. There were no Directors in Shakespeare’s time so a rough equivalent of ‘Master of Plays’ was introduced and used in the Programmes. However, this sat uncomfortably with the fact that women were also in charge of important elements of the production. Claire van Kampen and Jenny Tiramnai were anachronistically referred to as ‘Master of Music’ and “Master of Properties and Clothing’.

A document detailing a show report

Front of House Show Report for The Comedy of Errors (1999).

Hazelnut shells

Some ‘Original Practices’ experiments didn’t always go well. When the remains of the Rose Theatre were found in 1989 a layer that included hazelnut shells was found during the excavation. A sample was analysed, finding the majority was composed of silt and ‘slag’ and 1% consisted of hazelnuts shells, with the odd plum and cherry stone in the mix. It was surmised that the hazelnuts were the Shakespearean equivalent of popcorn and although controversial it was decided to experiment with this mixture on the floor of the Yard in the Globe. This went completely wrong as this front of House Show Reports describes. The hazelnut shell mixture caused blockages in the drains of the Yard and an actor had to come to the rescue to clear it out.