Sam Wanamaker Theatre promises masses of learning

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Earlier this week I had a quick peek at the fabulous new Sam Wanamaker Theatre, the indoor Jacobean space being built as part of Shakespeare’s Globe and due to open early in 2014 – something to look forward to very much.

As I – one of a group of journalists – picked my way through the mud and rubble, I was struck by two thoughts.

First, it is almost incredible that the Globe should have become such a thriving, vibrant place of learning and entertainment, without government subsidy of any sort given that, for many years, most of us saw it as a visionary but impossible twinkle in Sam Wanamaker’s eye. It was hard to keep faith that it would ever be built at all, despite the upbeat optimism of Patrick Spottiswoode appointed, one of only two full-time employees back in 1984, to make education happen. But built it was. And education certainly happened too.

Second – allow me the occasional bit of frivolity please – it is distinctly odd to see in disguise people you have known for a long time. I first met Spottiswoode in 1987 when I took a school party to the then very modest Globe education centre for a workshop. I barely recognised either him or the Globe’s Artistic Director Dominic Dromgoole in hard hats and fluorescent vests on Tuesday.

The new theatre has been designed from – but not to – the famous contemporary drawings for a proposed indoor Jacobean theatre found in Worcester College, Oxford. It will complement the Globe’s main space with indoor plays to be staged in the winter while the summer season continues outdoors as before. With space for an audience of 350 it has two galleries, a pit for 60 people standing and some premium seats close to the stage. The roof will be painted and the London Fire Brigade has agreed to candle lighting in candelabra. At the same time all the foyer space at The Globe is being improved and adapted to integrate the new theatre.

The total cost – raised from donations, sponsorship, trusts, companies and individuals is £7.5 million, of which all is in place except the final million and Globe staff would be very pleased to hear from anyone with one to spare. The cost is relatively modest because the shell of the building is already there alongside the Globe itself in New Globe Walk. It used to house education activities but has been freed up since the opening in 2010 of the nearby Sackler Studios for education and rehearsal.

Wanamaker always envisaged an indoor theatre as well as an outdoor one but it wasn’t financially feasible at the outset. Fourteen years after the opening of Shakespeare’s Globe, and the astonishing success it has developed into, today it is.

And what a learning resource the Sam Wanamaker Theatre is going to be. As Dromgoole told the gathering on Tuesday, the new theatre will put a spotlight on Jacobean drama. He believes it will provide a “waterfall of insights” and stresses that some of the research which has gone into the theatre has come from the plays themselves anyway. It won’t just be plays in the new space either. He and his colleagues have already had a lot of interest from companies wanting to use the space for early music and opera during the summer months.

Dr Farah Karim-Cooper is Head of Courses and Research, Globe Education and Chair of the Architecture Research Group. She sees the new theatre as a fine resource for researchers wanting to deduce how plays and theatres worked in the early 17th century.

And think of all those school parties who will flock there – as I took my little band over 20 years ago when there was, as yet, no theatre. Spottiswoode’s department already works with 100,000 learners a year – at all levels and through a dazzling range of projects and initiatives. I’m sure it will now be many more.

Meanwhile it’s a case of waiting with bated breath for the announcement telling us which plays we can look forward to in the first season. We’ll be told in April, Drogmoole says.