Interview with Wiebke Acton and Christian Leonard from Globe Berlin
The Globe Theatre, London, burned down in the 17th century, but in its heyday was a popular meeting place for nobility and townsfolk alike to experience Shakespeare's plays ‘up close and personal’. A modern reconstruction of the Globe has even found imitators in Rome and Tokyo – and now Berlin is on the cusp of having its very own "wooden O". In 2020, the Globe Berlin will open in the German capital. At its location in Berlin-Charlottenburg an open-air ‘prologue’ stage currently stands.
Here, as well as at the new Globe Berlin, the audience will be able to experience not only German performances but also Shakespeare’s plays in English.
Director and translator Christian Leonard is behind this ambitious venture to bring the Globe to Germany’s capital. As artistic director, he has the vision to realize the Globe Berlin not only as a stage, but also as a meeting place, in which Shakespeare will be performed for pupils during the day and for adults during the evening. In addition, the Globe will be able to be rented, for example, for workshops as well as integration and humanitarian work with an artistic focus.
Wiebke Acton is an actress and translator, and currently plays Lady Capulet in "Romeo & Juliet" on the ‘prologue’ stage. She currently lives in England.
Mr Leonard, 400 years ago in London's wooden Globe Theatre, the enthusiasm of the audience was expressed by pounding on the floor of the galleries; the nobility sat, the rest stood. How do you think the Globe Berlin will make its entrance– will there be an introduction for the audience before the plays and will the original seating arrangement with standing room remain?
The Globe Berlin can enrich the theatrical scene of Berlin with what is currently a missing model; here in Berlin audiences are open, react authentically and can get inspired by new cultural locations. Because of this, we are convinced that our theatre will be welcomed onto the scene.
We would like to create a space for exchange with our audiences, young and old, and organise both introductions beforehand and audience discussions afterwards. We are delighted that whole school classes are already increasingly visiting our performances in the English original and they have been thrilled at how recognisable, humorous and entertaining performances – of texts which might have seemed dry in the classroom – can be. And of course Romeo & Juliet – a love story about first love – is the love story that all adolescents are drawn to.
In contrast to the big Globe Theatre in London, which seats 1,500, our intimate theatre with 600 spaces sets aside 150 of those for the ‘groundlings’ as standing room. These spaces, directly in front of the stage ramp, are actually often considered the best in the whole theatre, where individuals can – like at a concert or a sports event – be tantalisingly close to the action, and for only 5 EUR (!).
Ms Acton, where do you see the appeal of a performance as an actress on the Globe Stage? Have you seen differences between German and British audiences thanks to your many years of acting experience in the UK?
I've acted in various Shakespeare plays, including in England, but never on a Globe stage. This is an exciting new experience for me because Shakespeare wrote his plays specifically for the Globe Theatre: he always had this form of the theatre in mind when developing his plays, the plot, the characters. That's why it feels to me now that we’ve gone back to the heart of Romeo & Juliet – that is, we’re taking Shakespeare to where he belongs.
The shape of the stage and its environment of course has an impact on the way we act within it. The audience does not simply sit directly in front of you but also has an insight into what is happening from three angles. Whilst performing, you always have to be aware of that. The audience on the far right should also know what is being played front stage left. As a result, as an actor, you rarely stay in one place for a long time but constantly open up to all sides. Static scenes don't work in this environment. You have to stay in motion, always communicate in 270°. Acting like this can be a challenge but it also has a great appeal.
"I first noticed a big difference between German and British audiences when I was touring England a few years ago with Midsummer Night's Dream. In almost every performance, at least a handful of people sat there with the text in their hands." – Wiebke Acton
I first noticed a big difference between German and British audiences when I was touring England a few years ago with Midsummer Night's Dream. In almost every performance, at least a handful of people sat there with the text in their hands. Sometimes they didn't look at the stage at all, but from start to finish they just had their noses buried in their books. I also remember spectators speaking along during my monologues – so loud that I could hear them. This was incredibly confusing and odd at first. Staying close and ‘true’ to the text is a big issue on the island. For many Shakespeare fans, it is imperative to reproduce the original text word-for-word. It is of utmost importance that not a single word is forgotten. For the actor, this can be a strange pressure which I had to get used to. I had not experienced this precision in Germany. Of course, the situation in Germany is different. There is not only one original text but a number of translations and adaptations. The text version we work with at the Globe Berlin for example, the translation done by Christian Leonard, will certainly not be known to many people.
Commemorating the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare in 2016, the British Council launched a worldwide Shakespeare Lives programme. Part of the campaign was Translating Shakespeare (LINK): a five-day workshop in Cologne, a collaboration between the British Council and the Globe Theatre London, the Norwich Writers Centre and the Theatre Studies Department of the University of Cologne, with artists, actors and translators from the UK, Romania, Poland and Germany. The aim of this ambitious project, which was based on the method of 'consensus translation', was to translate well-known quotations from three Shakespeare plays from the original into the respective language and to perform and film them as a highlight on the last day.
Ms Acton / Mr Leonard, during Translating Shakespeare, excerpts from Shakespeare’s plays were translated and performed, in your case from English into German. On the ‘prologue’ stage you currently play Romeo & Juliet in English. Did the workshop in Cologne 2016 shape your approach to Shakespeare translations and can visitors to the Globe Berlin expect more contextual productions starting in 2020 or will there be references to the present day, society and politics?
The workshop "Translating Shakespeare" was a real surprise and an all-round positive experience, because the collaboration with our German colleagues turned out to be so inspiring and the results so fruitful that we decided to found a collective of translators that work on Shakespeare together, under the name ConTra (‘consensus translation’). Since then we have been working regularly on HENRY V., meeting in person or working via Skype. It's time-consuming, but it's great fun – and maybe we'll find a sponsor or a foundation to support this wonderful project.
Mr Leonard, in an interview you once said that you have the right Shakespeare quote for almost every situation. If after the years of hard work and effort, the opening of Globe Berlin with the premiere next year is imminent, how would you wrap the path to it and your motivation in a quote?
Impossible be strange attempts to those
That weigh their pains in sense; and do suppose
What hath not, cannot be.
ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL