Globe Theatre Story

Bid time return: the time capsules buried under the Globe Theatre

  How students raised money to build the roof of the Globe Theatre and the memories they preserved for future generations

4 minute read

Nearly three decades ago, in 1992, our founder Sam Wanamaker launched Globelink – a fundraising campaign involving schools and universities across the world. He asked students to help us raise the £100,000 needed to pay for the roof that would cover the Globe stage.

Each school that donated was sent a time-capsule for every £200 it contributed to the campaign, and was enlisted as a member of Globelink.

The manufacturer, British Steel, donated 50 stainless steel capsules, especially designed for the purpose, and Pains Wessex, a leading supplier of marine distress signals, donated over 500 distress flare cases for the rest.

Students were asked to fill their capsules with memorabilia about themselves, their fundraising activities, their schools and anything that they thought would be of interest to future generations whenever the capsules were opened.*

A view of an empty Globe Theatre, the image pans across the stage and seating bays.

Globelink was a fundraising campaign launched in 1992 to help raise money for the roof that would eventually cover the Globe Theatre stage. Photographer: Peter Dazeley.

A Majestical Roof

Hamlet calls the earth a ‘sterile promontory’: noticeably, while standing on the bare stage of the Globe that juts out into a sea of Groundling faces.

Two pillars – herculean oaks painted to look like marble – support the weight of our roof which covers the stage of the Globe Theatre. The roof is called the Heavens. It has a functional role, protecting the actors and their costumes should it rain, but also symbolises the sky and the celestial.

The Heavens is richly painted in blues and golds with depictions of the sun, moon and stars as well as the twelve signs of the zodiac. No original designs survive but we took inspiration from their equivalent that can still be found above some pulpits and funeral monuments of the period.

Hamlet noticeably fuses celestial and theatrical when asking Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to note ‘this brave o’er hanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire’.

Heavens 1000 by 1600

The Heavens of the Globe Theatre depict the sun, moon and stars as well as the twelve signs of the zodiac. Photographer: Clive Sherlock.

Pillars 2000 by 800

Two pillars – herculean oaks painted to look like marble – support the weight of our roof which covers the stage of the Globe Theatre. Photographer: Clive Sherlock.

Our Children’s Children Shall See This

323 schools and colleges from over 20 countries joined Globelink and managed to raise more than £110,000.

Contents of their time capsules remain confidential, although rumours abound that as well as a piece of the Berlin Wall, a science curriculum, and a stone from the Rocky Mountains, a condom might be found in a capsule from a Catholic school.

The motto of the campaign was taken from Henry VIII, ‘Our children’s children shall see this and bless Heaven’. The quote seemed particularly appropriate. The irony that the first Globe burned down during a performance of the play in 1613 hadn’t escaped notice.

On those ‘very rare’ occasions that it rains during a performance, actors might look up, bless the heavens and thank the children and students from around the world who provided a roof over their heads.

‘Contents of the capsules remain confidential although rumours abound that as well as a piece of the Berlin Wall, a science curriculum and a stone from the Rocky Mountains, a condom might be found in a capsule from a Catholic school’

A semi-circular wooden staircase leads down into a large room with a tree structured in the middle.

The time capsules are buried directly beneath the centre of the Globe Theatre stage, sealed in a vault in our Underglobe. Photographer: Swan at Shakespeare’s Globe.

In the Other Place

The trapdoor in the Globe’s stage is used for dramatic entrances and exits, apparitions and burials but can also symbolise the underworld or hell.

At the time, we couldn’t promise Globelink schools that their time capsules would be buried under the stage, but we did promise them that they would be sealed in a vault under the very centre of the Globe Theatre which is where they are today.

Students and teachers were invited to Bankside for nine symbolic burials to place their capsules in a temporary casket. Prince Edward officiated at the first on 17 June, 1992. Guest MCs at further burials included our Honorary President Zoë Wanamaker, our first Artistic Director Mark Rylance, Janet McTeer, Julian Glover, Isla Blair, Sir William Shakespeare, Jane Horrocks, Michael Williams and our Royal Patron, Prince Philip.

A shot directly underneath the Heavens of the Globe Theatre, looking up at a painted blue ceiling with stars, sun, moon and signs of the zodiac.

The revealing of the Heavens took place on the 8 June, 1997, before the students who fundraised for its creation. Photographer: Pete Le May.

Shooting Stars

The tenth and final burial took place on 8 June, 1997. It was the first event in a two week festival celebrating the opening of the Globe.

Norbert Kentrup and members of the Bremer Shakespeare Company walked the students through an imaginary Forest of Arden in the Underglobe to the point, under the centre of the Globe Theatre, where the capsules were to be buried.  The final 60 time-capsules were then placed in a steel vault which was ceremoniously sealed.

After the burial students were invited into the Globe yard for a special ‘happening’. The Heavens were shrouded in yards of billowing white silk.  A fanfare sounded and the Heavens were unveiled as the clouds disappeared into the celestial trapdoor. At that moment, thousands of golden stars and moons were shot from cannons around the Upper Gallery and cascaded onto the Globelink Groundlings beneath.

The Bremer Shakesepeare Company then presented an especially devised Globelink Masque before the general public joined the students for the production of Henry V.

A large crowd of audience members stand watching a play in a circular timber structure.

Students then joined the general public for our opening season and a production of Henry V. Photographer: John Tramper.

Capsule Opening

Students were canvassed as to when they thought the vault should be unsealed, the capsules opened and their contents revealed.

Most wanted their children or even their grandchildren to be present.

One student wrote that he didn’t really mind just so long as his Head Teacher was dead.

The date chosen, however, was the 50th anniversary of that very day:

8 June, 2047

It will be a Saturday and a Full Moon is promised.

All will then be revealed.

FINIS.

*It is impossible to name all the committee members and interns who volunteered their time to ensure that every £ raised was a contribution to the Heavens. However, Henry Beltran, Chair of the Globelink Committee and Jackie Haighton and Lyn Williams, who ran the campaign and organised the burials, as well as the two week Opening Festival, do deserve special acknowledgment and heartfelt thanks.

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We recently temporarily closed our doors to the public until further notice. As a charity that receives no regular government subsidy, we desperately need your support, more than ever before.

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