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Our Backstage Pass Takes Us To The Wings Of London's Globe Theatre


So if all the world's a stage and men and women merely players, there's still got to be somewhere to stash the scenery and change your costumes. As part of our summer series Backstage Pass, NPR's Petra Mayer takes us into the wings at Shakespeare's Globe in London.


PETRA MAYER, BYLINE: So I'm standing literally backstage at the Globe. They've been nice enough to let me wander into the middle of a tech rehearsal for "Romeo And Juliet." It is very small back here. There's not a whole lot of room, not a lot of fancy stage machinery. Some racks of costumes, but it doesn't look anything at all like what you would expect a modern theater to be. This cramped, dark little space is called the Tiring House. Not because it's tiring to dodge the low, dark ceiling beams and the busy stage carpenters but because it's where, in Shakespeare's day, the actors would change their attire.

This is not, of course, Shakespeare's actual Globe. It's a reconstruction, a few hundred yards along the Thames from the site of the original, which was torn down in 1644 after England's Puritan government closed all the playhouses. But it's as close as you'll get to the original without a time machine. And for the actors that walk these boards, it's an experience like no other.

EDWARD HOGG: You get a real sense of - that the play's for the audience in that space. You speak directly to them and you feel them respond to you. You can tell the plays were written for that space, so.

MAYER: That's Edward Hogg, who's playing Romeo. He's done several shows at the Globe, and he says something strange will happen pretty much every night.

HOGG: People shout things out. I remember somebody shouting something very rude out when I was doing "Measure For Measure" on my first entrance. And I was like, oh, my God. That's unique to this space.

MAYER: At the Globe, you get up close and personal with the audience, says Kirsty Bushell. She's playing Juliet.

KIRSTY BUSHELL: Does one have the guts to look somebody in the eye and genuinely communicate another person's words to them?

MAYER: And then, there's something about being outside, about the unpredictability of the sky and the air.

BUSHELL: Something feels very fresh. Last night, it was almost like we were in a wind tunnel. It was great. Suddenly, we had the wind, and you can go with that.

MAYER: Out in the courtyard, ushers are ringing hand bells. It's time for the show to start.



MAYER: I'm crowded in with the rest of the groundlings as the actors speak the opening lines.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: In fair Verona, where we lay our scene.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: In fair Verona, where we lay our scene.

MAYER: The stage is draped in black, appropriate to such a death-haunted play. Dark shapes that hint at missiles and weaponry hang over the actors. And then, from the sky, a black bird swoops down and takes a turn around the wooden O. The actors look up, they react. And just for a second, that bird becomes part of the play. Petra Mayer, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF TAKENOBU'S "REVERSING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Petra Mayer died on November 13, 2021. She has been remembered by friends and colleagues, including all of us at NPR. The Petra Mayer Memorial Fund for Internships has been created in her honor.