Shakespeare’s Globe in lockdown: one year later

  Our physical doors may have been closed, but over this past year, we’ve been transforming our online world

7 minute read

On 18 March 2020, we made the difficult, but responsible, decision to shut our doors, cancelling all performances, tours and education events, in light of the coronavirus pandemic. What was expected to only be a closure of a couple of weeks or months at most, has turned into a whole year where we’ve been unable to welcome you into our wooden ‘O’.

Yet in a year when our physical doors have remained closed, our hearts, minds and imaginations have remained very much open, and we have channelled that into expanding our online world. You may have not have been able to visit the Globe on Bankside, but you have been able to experience the Globe online, wherever you are in the ‘great globe itself’.

A soft blue sky shines above the inside of the Globe Theatre, casting light on the wooden galleries.

You may have not have been able to visit the Globe on Bankside this past year, but you have been able to experience the Globe online, wherever you are in the ‘great globe itself’.

Early into lockdown, it was evident people around the world were turning to social media and the internet to stay connected to loved ones and to be entertained. With the demand for live streaming and online theatre experiences, we released six of our Globe Player filmed productions for free on our YouTube channel from 6 April until 28 June. Over 600,000 of you tuned into our first release – our very own Michelle Terry in Hamlet – and as the series continued over the summer, we saw our second release Romeo and Juliet trend on YouTube at #26, our subscribers grow by a staggering 729% to over 133,000 subscribers, and our Globe Player free series total an incredible 2.7million views, from the UK to the USA, India to Australia.

We shared six of our previous productions as a series of free films on YouTube, bringing the joy of Shakespeare to screens around the world.

Lockdown also meant the closure of schools across the country and the world. Recognising the needs of these times, our Education department moved their work online helping to support families, teachers and students of all ages, from all countries, as they navigated a brave new world of home-schooling and virtual classrooms (seriously, we salute all of you!).

Over 840,000 young people and students were able to watch Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet online, for free.

We were halfway through the run of our fourteenth Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank production of  Macbeth when the pandemic forced us to cancel the remaining performances last March. Our flagship project for secondary and post-16 further education students sees us adapt Shakespeare’s plays into fast-paced, adrenaline-filled, unplugged shows – the perfect opportunity for young people and students to experience live theatre and to access Shakespeare. Knowing that many students were unable to experience Macbeth, and that all students in the UK are required to study a Shakespeare text for GCSE, we made the recording of our 2020 production of Macbeth available to watch for free on our YouTube channel, as well as a host of supporting resources in a dedicated microsite.

What’s more, later in the Autumn term we also made our 2019 Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank production of Romeo and Juliet available to watch on YouTube for free. Over 840,000 of you were able to watch two of the most-studied of Shakespeare’s texts, all from the comfort of your very own homes, and for free.

In addition to our free YouTube streams, our Education department have also supported teachers with online CPD sessions, delivered online revision sessions and study workshops, and stayed connected by sharing learning resources directly to over 12,000 teachers each month through our teacher newsletter.

As well as supporting schools and students, we adapted our family workshop and storytelling sessions Telling Tales into online live and interactive events for the school holidays. Families with little ones as young as three joined us from all around the world including Malta, Germany, Mexico, Australia, USA, Switzerland, The Seychelles, France, Spain, Italy, Hong Kong, Russia, Singapore and India, to delve into the madcap world of Shakespeare. Our expert practitioners brought Shakespeare’s plays to life, transforming everyday props, household items and clothing into magical cloaks, swords and fantastical beasts before your very eyes.

An animation of a teddy bear attacking a man, with a flag reading: Exit, pursued by a bear

We welcomed families on a virtual journey through Shakespeare’s plays in Telling Tales.

From March to December last year we offered over 400 online events for teachers, schools and families – averaging out at one family, young person or teacher event per day of our closure. Our family work has helped us reach six different continents, 31 different countries and over 1,890 families. In total, we’ve delivered over 475 hours of interactive content for families and young people – and we’ve loved every second of it!

A woman stands before the Globe Theatre, smiling.

Our world-class Research team, led by Professor Farah Karim-Cooper, have continued to be pioneers in their field.

Taking the step to go to university can be quite daunting, even at the best of times, and we know studying during the pandemic has been quite the challenge. Our Higher Education programme stepped up to the challenge of enhanced distance-learning as we converted our provision of university and drama school courses to an online programme, working with students in the USA, Saudi Arabia and across the UK. Together with the University of Roehampton, we also announced our first fully-funded creative-critical PhD in Shakespeare Studies, due to start this September.

Our world-class Research team have continued to be pioneers in their fields, and we couldn’t be prouder. Professor Farah Karim-Cooper launched a Scholars of Colour network, a vital part of our on-going anti-racist work, and Dr Will Tosh announced the publication of his new book Straight Acting: The Many Queer Lives of William Shakespeare.

A group of women hold their fists in the air on a dramatically lit stage.

Emilia took the digital world by storm with an online premiere.

In November 2020, and again for International Women’s Day this past March, we got our fire buckets at the ready (we do have a thatched roof…) for the online stream of the sensational, fiery hit Emilia by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm. Not only did the West End transfer of the play win three Olivier-awards earlier in April, but an archive recording was also made available to watch online from as little as £1 with audio-described and captioned versions available too – fully accessible for all and raising vital support for the incredible team of freelancers who put together the show. The #EmiliaWatchParty trended at #3 on Twitter and we even changed our name to Emilia’s Globe (it was about time).

As well as sharing filmed versions of our past productions, we also created two digital festivals full of entirely new pieces of work. We transformed our Sam Wanamaker Playhouse into a broadcasting studio for our Shakespeare and Race and Shakespeare and Fear festivals. Over 2,100 people around the world joined us for new writing and stories by candlelight, a staged reading of Macbeth with Michelle Terry and Paul Ready, and engaging debate and discussion on current affairs in our political, cultural and economic landscape.

A still from a video of an actor in a red tshirt

Alfred Enoch, who was due to play Romeo in our Summer 2020 production, shared his thoughts on the play in a documentary about race, beauty and mental health in Behind Closed Doors.

A camera is recording

We transformed our Sam Wanamaker Playhouse into a broadcasting studio for two digital festivals.

Image of a women facing towards the camera

We celebrated new writing with Notes to the Forgotten She-Wolves and Deep Night, Dark Night.

In December 2020 we were determined to bring joy and festive cheer. We delivered a daily dose of sparkle via our Globe Advent calendar, and our first ever made for film, Christmas at the Snow Globe by Sandi and Jenifer Toksvig, was released online in time for Christmas, with over 4,000 households in 43 countries settling in to watch it over mince pies and mulled wine. What’s more, we were delighted to share the film for free with residents from 182 Care Homes and patients from 23 Children’s Hospitals.

Our iconic spaces, the Globe Theatre and Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, also played host to a number of award-winning artists, actors and musicians over the past year. From James Bay blowing the (metaphorical) roof of our Globe Theatre off, to BBC Sound of 2020 musician Arlo Parks performing on Sky Arts, to Ivor Novello winner Nitin Sawhney by candlelight, we welcomed some incredible acts in our spaces. We also made cheeky appearances on Saturday night TV favourites Strictly Come Dancing and The Masked Singer!

James Bay leans on the barrier of the wooden galleries in the Globe Theatre

We welcomed award-winning artists to our unique spaces, including a live stream gig from musician James Bay. Photographer: Ben Cole

We kept you updated with the latest stories on our blog, and produced another three series of our podcast, #SuchStuff, with a brand new feature The Shakespeare Diaries with Michelle Terry and Paul Ready as well as series dedicated to Shakespeare and Race – stay tuned for our eighth series to follow soon.

The words love in isolation float above images of 5 people participating in the project

Our incredible freelance family took part in Love in Isolation, a series celebrating Shakespeare’s words.

We invited many of our freelancers – who make up the life-blood of theatre and who have been hardest hit during this time as they’ve been unable to work – to take part in our Love in Isolation series. Artists including Stephen Fry, Jade Anouka and Shubham Saraf, picked their choice of Shakespeare’s words (quotes, sonnets, soliloquies and even stage directions!) and performed them from their place of solitude. Over 120,000 of you enjoyed our series of 38 videos, which you can still watch, for free, now. Since our closure, we’ve had to say goodbye to nearly 200 freelancers. As we look ahead to summer, we cannot wait to welcome our freelancers back to the Globe Family and work together to bring Shakespeare’s stories to life.

Last August we were offered a brief respite as London moved out of lockdown and we could open our great oak doors once more for Guided Tours. We loved seeing over 3,600 of your smiling faces as you explored the history of Shakespeare’s London and his theatre – and you even got to tread the boards of the Globe Theatre itself! Recently we announced we’d be opening our doors in April once again for Guided Tours, and are soon to announce our summer season (do watch this space!).

Three young children stand in the yard of the Globe Theatre, posing with wooden swords and shields

Last August we were able to welcome over 3,600 of you to the Globe Theatre for the return of Guided Tours.

We cannot wait to tell Shakespeare’s stories. After putting our case clearly to the UK Government, we were successfully awarded the maximum grant available from the Cultural Recovery Fund, a lifeline that allows us to plan confidently for the future. We also received generous contributions from a wide range of companies, charitable trusts and foundations, including the Garfield Weston Foundation.

And how could we forget you? We connected with you on social media, and as much as we hope we kept you buoyant and cheerful during this isolating time – you also kept us going with your daily messages of support. You generously donated over £380,000 in contributions, which will all be invested in our ongoing educational and artistic work. It’s been an unbelievably tough year, but we’d like to thank you all for your unwavering support, for watching our work from afar, making us smile with your messages, and for donating in what has been a challenging time for everyone.

We’re so, so nearly there. We have so many wondrous and exciting things planned this summer, that we cannot wait to be with you all so very soon, wrapped in the wonderful embrace of our wooden ‘O’.

Last year when we closed we said: when we meet again, why, we shall smile. And we’ll be there waiting to welcome you back to Bankside with the biggest smiles (and probably a few tears too).

The words: when we meet again, why, we shall smile

When we meet again, why, we shall smile.