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Auckland’s Pop-up Globe theatre

Isometric view of Lunchbox Theatrical's pop-up Globe Theatre in Auckland. Original design by Camelspace. Photo: Pop-up Globe

Stretching from London to Tokyo, Dallas to Baden-Wurttemberg, at last count there’s a total of 14 ‘Globe theatres’ across the world, all of which will help make Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary in 2016 a truly global affair. And for 10 weeks of that year, they’ll be joined by a 15th – New Zealand’s Pop-up Globe, a full-sized replica that will manifest itself in a car park, already nicknamed Bard’s Yard, in the heart of Auckland’s arts district.

nz pop-up globeIt’s the brainchild of artistic director Miles Gregory: “The Pop-up Globe was the result of my little daughter reading a book with a pop-up of Shakespeare’s Globe and asking, ‘Daddy can we go and see it?’ and me saying, ‘Well… London’s a very long way away from Auckland.’ That sparked the thought of, ‘Hmm, if we can’t go to the Globe there, perhaps we can go to it here.’

“When I first talked about the idea, people thought I was crazy – and it is a bit crazy. But the authorities of the city council recognised its significance, and have supported it every step of the way. In fact all of our partners have basically approached us and said let’s make this happen.”

New Zealander Gregory spent almost 20 years working in the UK and ended up as director of the Maltings, in Berwick-upon-Tweed, where he was responsible for the remarkable turn-around in the fortunes of England’s most remote theatre. He then returned to his homeland to work in his family’s business for two years and, job done, by 2014 he was thinking about returning to the UK and running theatres again, but then his idea for the Pop-up Globe gathered instant momentum.

Gregory, who handily possesses a PhD in Shakespearean studies, is recreating the second Globe Theatre – in London, the current Shakespeare’s Globe is a replica of the first incarnation. The new theatre is being accurately brought to life via close work with academics in New Zealand and Australia and staging construction specialists Camelspace, based in Auckland, at a project cost of more than NZ$1 million (£432,000).

Artistic director Miles Gregory
Artistic director Miles Gregory

The building will take six weeks to construct, exist for 10 weeks and then be dismantled in a fortnight in its car park. But, as Gregory points out: “It’s not just any car park. It’s a piece of land in the heart of the Aotea arts quarter, surrounded by theatres. There are two well respected independent theatres within 50 yards, the Basement and the Q Theatre, and it’s just about 100 metres away from the main opera house the Aotea Centre. This all makes for a very interesting theatrical counterpoint.”

The full programme is still being assembled, but the tickets that have already been released have been snapped up immediately, says Gregory. “It seems to have captured the public’s imagination. We’ve sold more tickets for this event than I think I’ve ever seen sold in one go. In terms of school tickets alone we’ve sold more than 15,000 all over the country.”

That clearly pays for the run, and so, as is always the case in theatre, it is merely a question of cashflow to opening night – bearing in mind that there aren’t that many companies who need to factor in building their venue from scratch. Pop-up Globe has accomplished this through a mixture of sponsors and private investors, a model which Gregory says has worked very well for the project. “Elizabethan theatre is probably the best example in history of the commercial sector producing great work. So we’ve taken a leaf out of Shakespeare’s book. We haven’t gone to a bank, for example. I think quality theatre should pay its own way.”

Surprisingly, Creative New Zealand, New Zealand’s equivalent of the Arts Council, would be a logical funder, but isn’t. Instead, the Pop-up Globe’s funding takes a different tack. One of its major sponsors is Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development – which is a part of Auckland city council, another is major New Zealand winery Church Road Wines and Australasian ticketing agency Eventfinda. The response from the theatre industry has likewise been positive with companies taking on partnership roles in the project.

At the moment, things are at that tipping point where all those plans on paper are about to take physical shape. “We are in an incredible period of ramping up towards rehearsals starting January,” says Gregory. “We’ve just moved into an office and we’re recruiting staff, while the tickets sales are already generating such a buzz. Meanwhile, the theatre itself is in many constituent parts being constructed in various places around Auckland, ready to be put together in that car park in Greys Avenue.”

Artist’s impression of the interior of the Pop-up Globe.
Artist’s impression of the interior of the Pop-up Globe.

There is a neat sustainability to the building itself. Only 20% is bespoke, with the remaining 80% using standard scaffolding elements which are found worldwide. When the building is deconstructed, 80% of the material goes back into stock, with the bespoke elements stored to be used again in any future reiteration of the theatre.

It is a recyclable idea that is remarkably true to Shakespeare’s spirit, says Gregory. “The first Globe was built using timbers salvaged from the earlier Theatre, and there are even strong views that all Elizabethan and Jacobean theatres were meant to be dismantled if need be, so in a sense they were pop-up theatres too.”

Technical information nz pop-up globeThe stage of the three-storey structure is large, at around 100sqm, projecting into the yard that is half covered by the roof. The yard itself takes 200 standing, while the in-the-round seating for 900 is mainly benches that Shakespeare would immediately have recognised, with the odd section offering premium bucket seating. Plywood is a major material with an outside skin of corrugated iron, an unusual choice perhaps, but locally sourced, since it is a distinctly New Zealand and Australian product.

Given Gregory’s background, it is no surprise that Pop-up Globe has also created the Pop-up Globe Theatre Company, the first new producing theatre in Auckland in more than 30 years. “I’m basically doing my old job at the Maltings – producing, programming and now directing an all-male Twelfth Night. We also have UK director Ben Naylor coming out to direct Romeo and Juliet, which features the Maori language.”

In addition, Auckland University Students’ Association Summer Shakespeare Trust will present The Tempest, directed by Auckland director Benjamin Henson and featuring Lisa Harrow as Prospero. Also announced are Much Ado About Nothing, by the Young Auckland Shakespeare Company, and Titus, an all-male seven-hander by Fractious Tash. There is also the Festival of Curiosities, readings of obscure Jacobean plays – many of which have never been read before in New Zealand – that were produced at the second Globe Theatre. The programme will grow further as the date approaches.

While it is intriguing to consider what will happen to the Pop-up Globe after providing New Zealand with its own way of marking Shakespeare’s anniversary year, the project is clearly generating a fair amount of employment during its brief scheduled tenure. As Gregory points out: “It’s nowhere like London here. It’s quite rare in New Zealand to get 16 weeks’ work in stage acting. But our casts also draw on performers from the rest of the world. In fact everyone’s got stuck in, which was a bit like the Maltings when we said, ‘yes we can have a great theatre here’, and we did. Here in New Zealand we can build a pop-up and everyone’s pretty keen as well, and why not?

“And there’s something charming about the idea that the sun will rise first on a living replica of a theatre in a country that Shakespeare could never have imagined in a city he had never heard of, 400 years on.”