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Michelle Terry: ‘I will act, but I won’t be directing at Shakespeare’s Globe’

Michelle Terry. Photo: Sarah Lee
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Michelle Terry has revealed she will not direct any productions when she takes over the artistic directorship of Shakespeare’s Globe.

Speaking for the first time since being announced as Emma Rice’s successor at the theatre, Terry also disclosed that she did not initially apply for the role but was encouraged to do so by the theatre’s chief executive.

Terry, an actor who has performed at the Globe several times during her career but has very little directing experience, confirmed she would lead the theatre as an actor and hoped to perform in at least one production each season.

She said she would not be directing as it was a “particular skill” she does not have.

“My passion is acting. Being a part of an ensemble was certainly part of my first season’s plans and it’s really important that I am part of that ensemble. That is what, for me, creates the best Shakespeare, and collaboration in that space with the artists, that’s where I get the meaning.”

Terry also said she hoped her appointment would break down the idea a person must only be known for doing one thing.

She said: “We’re multi-taskers. I know directors that can tap dance and I know writers that can sing and I know actors that can direct, and we’re all capable of doing lots of things, so I hope in a way it dismantles some of those labels that we’ve got fixed on.”

Terry takes over the reins at the Globe in April 2018, as Rice leaves after just two years following a row over her use of artificial sound and lighting.

Terry becomes the second actor, after Mark Rylance, to be artistic director of the theatre, and spoke of her passion for Shakespeare, confirming she had read every one of his plays.

When asked about her desire for the artistic director job, Terry said she did not intend to apply for it, but instead wrote a letter to the theatre’s chief executive, Neil Constable, expressing her interest in being involved in its “artistic conversation” in some way.

“There are a lot of people, me included, that were saying ‘I would love to be part of the artistic conversation, whatever that looks like’… I wrote a letter to Neil, sort of pledging my allegiance and saying I’d love to be part of that artistic conversation, and he wrote back saying would I like to convert it into a formal application, and I thought, yes I would.”

Terry also announced that one of her first productions in charge of the venue will be a new work exploring the history of Emilia Bassano, who is thought to have been Shakespeare’s mistress and considered to have been the muse for some of his female characters.

Called Emilia, it will be written by a female playwright, but no other details of Terry’s first season have been announced. However, she added that she intends her casts to be 50/50 men and women, and “the whole body of work will be gender-blind, race-blind, disability-blind”.

Michelle Terry on:

The Globe’s lighting and sound practices

What I have is part of the job description. The decision has been made. There will be no amplified sound and no imposed lighting rig, and for me that’s what I know. I haven’t worked here under Emma’s tenure. What I know is this space as a raw, naked space. For me, it’s less about what was added on but what was missed. What you want to do is reach out to the audience, it’s about that connection.

Every other theatre can do lights and sound. What is unique to the Globe is that we don’t. So when every other theatre takes out the first 15 rows of their stalls and gets everyone to stand and takes the roof off, we might reconsider our experiment, but right now, this is really unique.

Shakespeare’s work

Peter Brook said that in every line of Shakespeare there’s an atom with infinite possibilities if we are brave enough to crack it open and I don’t think we have even begun to crack it open.

[The Globe is] only 20 years old in figuring out what that experiment is and what that dialogue is with our audience… I think there’s too much pressure on companies to solve the plays in rehearsal rooms. You ask the questions in the rehearsal process and out here with the audience you can go some way to answering them. Or you may not and that’s fine. We deal with the chaos.

New work at the Globe

New work, I hope, is going to be a big part of my tenure. It was always a new writing space so I want that to continue… Having a writing lab is very important. I’ve been in productions here that have suffered from not having time to be workshopped. We [theatre] are still learning what it’s like to write epically. We don’t ask that of our writers anymore. We’re really good at doing psychological, immersive stuff, but what does it mean to be an epic. That’s a really different thing.

Whether the Globe will still take artistic risks

Every artistic adventure involves risk. I take great courage in the fact that [the board has] taken an enormous risk by putting an actor in this position. I think that smacks of bravery and that gives me great hope.

Taking over the theatre as a new mother

[Parents in theatre] is a huge industry conversation. When you say things like, oh it’s common sense, you should just have a creche, when things that seem like common sense, there are probably really uncommon solutions to those problems. I have never felt so creative after having given birth, but where do I go with that? We’re losing great swathes of our artists because they do the most creative thing that we could ever do, which is give birth to a human.

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