7 Feb 2020

Pop-up Globe brought Shakespeare to life in Aotearoa

3:31 pm on 7 February 2020

By Nik Dirga

As the man put it, parting is such sweet sorrow.

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Photo: Supplied

The Pop-Up Globe is about to make its final curtain call in Auckland, but its impact on the next generation of Shakespeare-loving kiwis will carry on long after the applause stops.

The Globe first popped up in downtown Auckland in 2016 before moving to a more permanent setting at the Ellerslie Race Course. It spread to visit Australia, and mounted a successful tour of the regions back home last year.

More than 750,000 attendances have been recorded at the Globe, which puts on Shakespeare's plays in a period-accurate setting just like the original theatre from the Bard's era 500 years ago.

But now after five seasons, it's closing down its Auckland venue and popping off to tour the world. The season ends in March.

I was a very small part of the Globe's massive team of actors, directors and backstage staff, working as a volunteer at more than 50 shows over three seasons.

I watched viewers from ages 8 to 80 enjoying Shakespeare in the round, dazzled as his words were translated into music playing, swords clashing and blood flying across the stage (and often, into the eager crowd).

One of the biggest highlights was volunteering at dozens of school matinee shows.

You truly haven't seen Shakespeare's gender-studies comedy The Taming of the Shrew until you've seen it with a capacity crowd of 700 screaming high school girls.

Yes, some students couldn't care less about Shakespeare, and spent the plays eyeballs-deep in their phones. But an awful lot of them seemed to have the time of their lives.

A very good teacher once taught me that Shakespeare is meant to be seen, not merely read aloud in a halting adolescent voice in a dry classroom.

Pop Up Globe

Pop Up Globe Photo: supplied

"Once you delve into the text and break down what the words and ideas are really all about, it's all extremely relevant for teenagers," said Rita Stone, the Pop-Up Globe's youth development manager.

Stone has been running the Globe's popular youth and adult classes and workshops, where young casts put on plays such as King Lear and All's Well That Ends Well.

"The beauty of Shakespeare is that he has captured the human condition so astutely that it is a wonderful vehicle for young people to explore - and continue to explore as they get older," Stone said.

Ophelia Wass, who taught drama at Kohwai Intermediate School in Auckland and is currently researching her masters degree in drama, is a big advocate for promoting Shakespeare to teens.

"My students were completely stunned by what they had seen" after their first Shakespeare performance, she said.

"Shakespeare's voice will always be speaking to us (and through us) and will continue to spark imaginations and engage young people for many years to come."

Several of Wass's students signed up for the Globe's youth classes.

"They were lit up with the possibilities of Shakespeare and these were 12-year-olds," she said.

On Wass's final day of teaching, her Shakespeare students wrote her notes, she said, "and all of them said something to the effect of: 'I used to think Shakespeare was boring and confusing, but now I love it and cannot wait to do it in high school.'"

Some saw the course of their lives possibly changed by a dose of Shakespeare and the stage, she said.

A fight scene from a pop-up Globe production choreographed by Alexander James Holloway

A fight scene from a pop-up Globe production choreographed by Alexander James Holloway Photo: New Zealand Stage Combat School

"In a later class when I asked the students what they saw themselves doing as a career I got responses such as 'theatre director, drama teacher and actor.'"

That's what the Globe is all about - taking an author somewhat embalmed by history and bringing his words back to life, whether you're a fan watching from the Groundlings section or a student keen to hop on stage yourself one day.

Hamlet's rage and heartbreak or Othello's passion and ego still speak to us like they did five centuries ago.

"As teenagers, this time of their life is so sacred; the people and the experiences they have will shape all future experiences in whatever field they move into," Stone said.

The Globe has also excelled in adding a distinctly Aotearoa flavour to Shakespeare.

Many Pasifika and Maori actors have been cast, such as in Much Ado About Nothing, with Beatrice and Benedick's love affair given an interracial spin.

Famously, the Globe's interpretation of A Midsummer Night's Dream performed all the dialogue of the fairies who plague the human characters in te reo Māori.

Even with a big chunk of the play in a language that not every punter understood, it was magical. It was Shakespeare truly gone global.

The Globe's youth programs made special effort to reach out to schools with Māori and Pasifika actors.

Stone said she recalls one young Samoan student telling his teacher, "I didn't know Samoans could do Shakespeare."

"It was both humbling and bittersweet to hear a boy think in this way, but ultimately heartwarming to know we may have changed his view on who might own the right to perform Shakespeare," she said.

The Globe may soon be a memory out at Ellerslie, but the spotlight it's lit up for dozens of students and adults alike won't fade any time soon.

As a volunteer there, I saw hundreds of people leaving each show with a glint in their eyes and a spring in their step, having experienced some of the world's greatest stories with a new eye and a vivid intensity that only live theatre can provide. Who knows - some of the younger ones may take centre stage themselves one day.

And ultimately, that's the stuff that dreams are made of.

The Pop-Up Globe's farewell season closes in March. For information, visit popupglobe.co.nz