Sam Wanamaker Playhouse Story

Our new studio, the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

​ ​  Did you know that, in 2020, the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse was used as a recording studio – broadcasting recorded events to audiences all over the world?

4 minute read

For the majority of 2020, our buildings remained closed to the public, with performances to live audiences being put on hold completely.

Programming ongoing seasons of live events and festivals allowed us to stay connected to and share Shakespeare with the outside world. As well as practitioners running workshops from their homes, the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse fast became the perfect setting for the recording and live streaming of some of our events.

A close up of a black electronic box with wires coming out of it

Equipment for filming in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse in 2020. Photographer: Claudia Conway.

Did you know that this isn’t the first time our London-based indoor theatre space had been used in this way?

In 2017, the Playhouse was in fact the catalyst for our very own in-house record label. Shortly after opening, the space was recognised as a very unique music venue, one with exceptional acoustic qualities, and consequently our project Globe Music was born, a series of recordings that set out to capture the intimacy of the candlelit concerts that were taking place there.

Five musicians play string instruments on a stage

In 2017, the Playhouse’s crystalline acoustics established it as a world class chamber music venue. Photographer: Pete Le May.

Globe Music sought to bottle the magic of these live musical performances through purchasable releases – these special musical recordings brought together musicians from all around the world to perform, and be captured, in our unique environment. Releases included King of Ghosts, Songs from Our Ancestors, Twelfth Night and Richard III and Mali in Oak.

Fast-forward to 2020 and the Playhouse, along with many of our other indoor spaces, closed temporarily due to the Covid outbreak. So, in August of that year, the indoor theatre was transformed into a recording studio, in order for us to deliver events, performances and talks online, to people all across the globe (in collaboration with video production company Karma).

In August 2020, our first digital festival to utilise the performance space was launched – Shakespeare and Race, an annual programme of events and conversations that would normally take a form onsite here at Shakespeare’s Globe. Unable to present itself in the physical world, the third iteration of this exciting season of events moved online, with three key events being pre-recorded in the space.

A woman talks to a group onstage as they sit on chairs

Alfred Enoch and Farah Karim-Cooper in discussion for an event in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. Photographer: Claudia Conway.

Headsets resting on the side lines of the Sam Wanamaker Stage

Shakespeare and Race was our first digital festival in 2020.

An actor wearing glasses sits on a chair

Director Ola Ince is filmed for Behind Closed Doors: Romeo and Juliet. Photographer: Claudia Conway.

Firstly, Behind Closed Doors: Romeo and Juliet, a two-part film, explored the play and its process alongside an honest conversation about Shakespeare’s language, race, femininity, mental health and more. Another pre-recorded digital event, Notes to the Forgotten She-Wolves, honoured and celebrated women of colour through a collection of filmed monologues. Last, but by no means least, In Conversation: Reckoning with our Past (available to rewatch) saw an academic panel discuss British history, the colonial past and racial identity.

Text: Shakespeare and Race 21-23 August Such Stuff on a red background with blacklines and fingerprints over the text

Even though the festival has now ended, the podcast episodes for Shakespeare and Race are still available to access.

Specially curated podcasts, blogs, family workshops and education events ran alongside the festival, including a continued professional development course aimed at building an anti-racist approach to teaching Shakespeare in the classroom. This, our first digital festival, attracted 1,752 people from 42 different countries to attend at least one of the events available.

Next, in October and November 2020, Shakespeare and Fear kicked off Halloween with an online festival sponsored by Warner Media. Exploring fear in Shakespeare’s work, pre-recorded readings and performances reached 449 people from 13 different countries. Launching with Deep Night, Dark Night, followed by Macbeth: A Conjuring – the latter saw the acting company from our 2018 production reunite for a semi-staged reading of the play. One event, In Conversation: Fear in our Moment can be rewatched on YouTube.

A woman kneels in prayer on the wooden stage, surrounded by candles.

Filming for Shakespeare and Fear in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse for Halloween 2020.

As we reached the end of 2020, our Globe Advent calendar gave our online fans a special gift every day in the lead up to Christmas. Six videos filmed in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse shared intimate candlelit performances with viewers from across the globe, collectively receiving 14,107 views over on YouTube.

Treats included Peace by Maya Angelou (read by Doña Croll), The Fir Tree by Hans Christian Andersen (read by Eric Sirakian), Heigh-Ho! The Holly by William Shakespeare (performed by James Maloney and Tanika Yearwood), Tilly’s Christmas by Louisa May Alcott (read by Helen Schlesinger) and Twas the Night Before Christmas (performed by Sophie Stone in BSL and written by Clement Clarke Moore).

A singer and pianist in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Pianist James Maloney and vocalist Tanika Yearwood perform Heigh-Ho! The Holly from As You Like It as part of Globe Advent, 2020.

It may have been through a screen, but our mission to share the magic of this theatrical space (during this time when we have been unable to perform live) has been enhanced by us knowing how much the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse has meant to our audiences over the years. To share such important events in such a majestic space felt appropriate.

It was with great sadness that we closed our doors temporarily on 18 March 2020, and since then, we’ve been working hard to bring you the best digital content and online events we can (as well as ‘reopening’ for a short period of time at the end of summer to see some visitors enjoy our new-format Globe Theatre Guided Tour).

Throughout it all, as our indoor Playhouse has remained unable to host live performance, it has warmed us to witness it find a new lease of life over the pandemic, to allow our fans – national and international – to be able to engage with what we do, to be able to access Shakespeare, to be able to rejoice in the beauty that is this precious and unique space.

A lit candelabra hangs from a decorated ceiling.

A lit candelabra hangs from the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse ceiling. Photographer: Pete Le May.

Thanks to all of you who joined us online over the last 6 months. With you, we can smile at the past, keep on going through the present, and look forward to the future, one in which we will retreat into our warm, indoor space once again.


You can explore the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse venue in depth online.