Shakespeare’s Globe produces new plays?

Why and how do we commission new plays at Shakespeare’s Globe? 

Exterior of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre

Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. Photograph: Clive Sherlock.

The Globe has always been a new writing venue. It’s hard to believe now but Shakespeare was a new writer once, and The Globe I write from now, (the third Globe) is still a new writing venue today.

Our first brand new play was seen by enthusiastic audiences back in 2002, it was called The Golden Ass by Peter Oswald – an adaptation of a Roman Classic – with a cast of 30 actors playing almost 200 different characters, with puppetry, opera and mini-scooters… it was certainly not a case of starting small!

Since then we have produced almost 40 new plays, for both the Globe and the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, including Jessica Swale’s Nell Gwynn, Howard Brenton’s Anne Boleyn, Che Walker’s The Frontline, Claire van Kampen’s Farinelli and the King, Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s Emilia and most recently Tom Stuart’s After Edward. They’ve played here, in the West End and on Broadway, as well as on tour around the UK.

Emilia on the Globe stage

Vinette Robinson, Leah Harvey and Clare Perkins in Emilia on the Globe stage in 2018. Photograph: Helen Murray.

Now, as we enter our 22nd year, the process of commissioning and developing new work is getting a shake-up. Shakespeare wrote his plays specifically for the Lord Chamberlain’s Men and for the playhouses they performed in, and once they had passed the censor then it was left to the audience to decide their worth.

We want to take this as our guide: to work with writers and produce exciting new plays written bespoke to the architecture they will be performed in. We will give writers the space and time to work with our academics and research team, spend time with our actors, see plays in our theatres, experiment with and learn from the architectural playing conditions of our two theatres, the practitioners who work in them, and ultimately write a play bespoke to those theatres.

We’re calling this idea ‘The Scriptorium’, hearkening back to the medieval idea of a space devoted to writing, but more on that another time…!

Our cause is to celebrate and interrogate Shakespeare’s transformative impact on the world – and where can that impact be more felt than in the writers of today…. Artistic descendants of this extraordinary shaman.

Our aim is to programme and produce new work within a season of Shakespeare’s plays that support and complement each other. For example, we programmed Emilia in a season of Shakespeare’s plays in which the character of Emilia threads her way through several stories – OthelloThe Winter’s Tale and The Two Noble Kinsmen. These plays provided an opportunity and framework to reflect on the myriad influences this ‘Dark Lady’ may have had on Shakespeare’s imagination, but crucially in Emilia, Morgan Lloyd Malcolm placed this revolutionary poet right where she is meant to be – at the centre of her own story.

Athena Stevens and Mandi Symonds perform Recompense by Athena Stevens

Mandi Symonds and Athena Stevens in Recompense, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, 2019. Photograph: Helen Murray.

At the beginning of 2019 we hosted our first ever new writing festival: responses to our winter production of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus. The central Faustian bargain has traditionally been associated with the male ‘soul’, and so, we commissioned six female writers to give a feminine response to the central provocation at the heart of Doctor Faustus that asks ‘what would you sell your soul for?’

The responses were surprising, revealing, funny and truly moving, and the reaction from the audiences were similar. To have an opportunity to see how  classic plays sit in conversation with brand new ones is so exciting, and this festival of writing is something we want to do again and again, bigger and even better.

During the festival we experimented with different performance spaces and found that there’s so much more to play with than just a traditional stage. The Globe’s ‘Tiring House’ (where you would put on your ‘attire’ before a performance) makes a beautifully intimate and immediate playing space that created a ‘pop-up’ element to our first new writing festival. So, watch this space, and lots of other spaces around the building.

If you’re a writer, here are a few things to bear in mind:

One of the exciting things that writers find here is that the Globe theatre demands writing that is truly active, epic and democratic. The audience can be your biggest supporter or your harshest critic: roughly half of a Globe audience is standing, and they’ve only paid five pounds, so if they don’t like something, they can – and do – leave!

The Globe invites live and direct communication with its audience. It also responds brilliantly to declarations of huge shifts in space and time – think of Antony and Cleopatra where we move between Egypt and Rome again and again so swiftly, with nothing more than a different set of characters coming on to tell us that we have changed continent.

And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
– A Midsummer Night’s Dream

The space is the concept. The dramaturgy and structure of the play can be inspired by the necessity and parameters of the stage as much as the narrative that drives it forward. There are no sets, no amplified sound, no black outs – it’s a space that is completely shared with play, player and audience. And above us all is the sky. It’s a vertical as well as horizontal space. It’s mythic and domestic. It’s a tabula rasa that allows for an experiment in form as much as content, and that is a challenge our writers say they love to rise to.

Although Shakespeare himself has popped up in one or two of our new plays over the years, he’s not in himself the most interesting subject matter. Shakespeare wrote about Kings and Queens, faeries and myths, fools and twins, but what he really wrote about was the human condition. We want to find our new Shakespeares. Writers with big ideas that speak to a contemporary audience.

How to develop a play for Shakespeare’s Globe

We don’t accept unsolicited scripts, mainly because we’re not looking for finished, polished plays. Instead we want to support writers as you develop your plays bespoke to our playhouses.

If you’re a writer with an idea for the Globe please don’t spend your precious free time writing something without being paid for it!

Instead send us the pitch, invite us to your shows, or rehearsed readings, or send us scripts you’ve written in the past, but please do not send us your new plays written for the Globe. Our space is full of ‘airy nothing’ that invites you to speak to it and to fill it with your imagination; all we need is you, your poet’s pen and your big idea.

If you would like to invite us to see your work performed please email us on [email protected]The subject line should read: Invitation/Pitch (New Writing). ♦️

Jessica Lusk is our Literary Manager. She is responsible for the research and development of all our new writing. Lucky her! If you came to see Emilia in 2018 you can thank Jessica in part for that.