The news this week that Emma Rice will be stepping down as artistic director of Shakespeare's Globe in 2018, less than a year after she first took up the position, demonstrates the theatre to be anything but progressive in its creative vision, as its board decided that she was not 'authentic' enough to continue.
Rice's productions at the Globe have been marked by their innovative use of lighting and sound, as she came from the uniquely experimental Kneehigh theatre company, and brought much of that idiosyncratic energy with her. She attracted crowds of people, with the dazzling version of A Midsummer Night's Dream consistently selling out and bringing in a diverse range of audiences. Indeed, it appears that Rice has done nothing but live up to her reputation, which is why her departure seems so arbitrary.
In the very statement in which the board announced the decision to part ways, they praised her "mould-breaking work", stating that she had brought in "new and diverse audiences, won huge creative and critical acclaim, and achieved exceptionally strong box office returns". With this in mind the reasoning behind her removal is even more ridiculous, as the statement continued by saying that "the Globe was reconstructed as a radical experiment to explore the conditions within which Shakespeare and his contemporaries worked, and we believe this should continue to be the central tenet of our work" and that "a predominant use of contemporary sound and lighting technology will not enable us to optimise further experimentation in our unique theatre spaces and the playing conditions which they offer."
A significant part of these "central tenets" is the notion of 'shared light' productions, in which the actors and the audience can both see each other, thus allowing the audience to feel more involved in the performance, as would have been the case in Shakespeare's time. This is a concept which evidently is not in accordance with Rice's tech-heavy pieces.
It is possible to see where the board is coming from, as the Globe attempts to recreate the atmosphere and environment of Shakespeare's day. The Globe is a unique space, and experiencing a play as it would have been performed in the Elizabethan era is not something that you can do anywhere. It is fascinating to be able to see Shakespeare's plays in their original form, as it were. However, the board is not exactly consistent with its upholding of traditions. They cannot pick and choose which aspects of Shakespeare's contemporary theatre to keep and which to reject. For example, are they going to ban women from performing on the Globe's stage because they weren't allowed in the sixteenth century?
Moreover, if the board is truly aiming to uphold the spirit and tradition of the Globe, then they should be embracing change and experimentation. Shakespeare is renowned for his innovation, having coined over 1700 new words, and his plays are often, when placed in his historical context, radical in their themes. Theatre is not something which should be limited and confined, but should push boundaries and challenge expectations, something which Rice does exceptionally. Considering that the Globe is first and foremost a space for theatre, it should be allowed to develop and move with the times; but the impression given by the removal of Rice as artistic director is that the Globe is now just a museum, a part of history which is present physically, but not in spirit.
It's all very well to recognise and uphold traditions, since the UK has a long and rich history which we should be proud of, and Shakespeare's Globe is a big part of this. But the traditions represented by the Globe are of innovation and experimentation, of embracing change rather than stagnating in the past, and this is what Emma Rice so clearly embodied.