Take a bow, the Front of House staff at Shakespeare’s Globe

07 March 2019

Cultural Studies | Theatre

In the theatrical experiment that is the reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe, it’s said that the audience is one of the most important discoveries. In attempting to recreate the playing conditions of Shakespeare’s time, the Globe has up to 700 ‘groundlings’ in the uncovered yard that separates the stage from three tiers of seating. The documents in Shakespeare’s Globe Archive: Theatres, Players & Performance attest to the energising effect of these groundlings on the performers and how interactions between the public and the actors can affect a performance and thus the meaning and interpretation of a play. A collection of documents in the archive, the Front of House Show Reports, offer a great window onto the audience and how they behave at each performance. Plus they detail the weather, the atmosphere, passing helicopters, numbers, unruly school children, first aid instances and other happenings. After reading a few of them, you may come to the conclusion that, though the actors take the applause at the end of the show, it’s also the Front of House staff who should take a bow. Because these show reports feature plenty of examples of audiences behaving badly or curiously. Here are three types and they all have dropping in common: saliva, naughty words or themselves. I'll call them Gobbers, F-bombers and Fainters.


GOBBERS

The Playing Shakespeare programme offers school children a chance to see plays at the Globe to help them in their studies. You can imagine what hundreds of adolescents get up to in the upper-tier seating with an unmissable target below. The show reports for these performances detail a lot of children as unable to resist the urge to gob on their peers below and on a cool March day at a 2011 Macbeth the ones in the yard, perhaps driven to rage by the bombardment from above, take it out on the actors and began spitting at them. Another example: a cool and dry 2012 July day and in Henry V a man gets agitated when people go near his shopping bags and his chosen defence method is to threaten to spit.

 

Front of House Show Reports for Macbeth (2011) and Henry V (2012). Images reproduced with kind permission of Shakespeare's Globe Archive.


F-BOMBERS

A warm and cloudy Tuesday afternoon in summer 2006 – you saunter down to the Southbank to catch Antony and Cleopatra. Somebody’s baby makes a few noises in the yard, man asks them to keep this baby quiet, mother responds “he’s just being a baby and not being too loud”, man responds “F*** off”, scuffle ensues as father of child pushes man away. Couple retreat. Hot June day in 2003 and it’s Richard II, an audience member asked for their ticket responds “I’m in a good mood at the moment … F*** you.” Charming. Cool September day in 2008 and an audience member at A Midsummer Night’s Dream is asked to not sit on the bannister in one of the tiers responds with another “F*** off” and even throws his cushion at the steward.

Front of House Show Report for A Misdummer Night's Dream (2006). Images reproduced with kind permission of Shakespeare's Globe Archive.


FAINTERS

Sometimes it seems the leitmotif of audiences at the Globe is that they faint – to the extent that a warm and windy June 2006 Titus Andronicus report reads incredulously that “… no-one fainted … not one person, no, not even one ….. person, at all”. A 2010 very hot May day at Macbeth had 27 fainters and 8 vomiters. Normally it’s because of standing for a long time on warm days but it can also be the content of the productions as at said Titus Andronicus where one couple were even disappointed by the lack of fainting in their fellow theatre-goers.

Front of House Show Reports for Titus Andronicus (2010). Images reproduced with kind permission of Shakespeare's Globe Archive.


But don't let this put you off catching a show at the Globe, it should be added that the audiences tend to be joyful and love the experience. But the rich tapestry of human life is also there to see in these show reports and the Front of House staff certainly deserve some plaudits for dealing with it all with what comes across as good-humour, tact and professionalism in these documents.

 


Shakespeare's Globe Archive: Theatres, Players & Performance is available now. It makes available in digital form the performance and much of the architectural archive of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre detailing the performance history of the theatre from 1997-2016. For more information or to sign up for a free trial, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

About the Author

Felix Barnes

Felix Barnes

I have been an editor at Adam Matthew since September 2013. Since then I have been fortunate enough to have been involved with some fascinating collections including Global Commodities, the Foreign Office Files for China, American History, 1493-1945, Frontier Life: Borderlands, Settlement and Colonial Encounters, Socialism on Film and J. Walter Thompson: Advertising America.

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