June 2, 2013
Welcome to LSF
By Peggy Riley
Last year we celebrated our tenth anniversary of Shakespeare in the Vineyard. As part of our celebration, we began our LSF blog, and here we are – back for 2013. In the weeks to come, we’ll share with you some inside information about what goes on backstage, about the incredible variety of artistry, skills and knowledge it takes to put a show together. We’ll also share some background to this summer’s plays – all kinds of stuff.
To begin, we’ll reprise our first blog from last year. Folks were interested in the background of the Victorian home, the Ellen Row Concannon House, our spectacular venue at Concannon Vineyard. The house bears surprising similarities to Shakespeare’s London theater.
The Big Move – Livermore
If you had chanced by Concannon Vineyard in the spring of 2008, you would have been astonished to see a huge, white Victorian home rumbling along the winery roads. Moving the house was the first step in Concannon’s preparing what would become the new venue for the Livermore Shakespeare Festival.
The Tiring House
The house, originally located in downtown Livermore at 4th and K Streets, was built in 1895. In1966 it was moved to the spot where South Livermore Avenue curves into Tesla Road. It served as a family home for about 20 years, then stood empty for another 20. Finally it was moved around the tasting room to its new spot back in the vineyard. Beautifully landscaped, the area around and in front of the Victorian, now called the Ellen Row Concannon House, provides a perfect background for Shakespeare’s plays.
But it’s not only background. Surprisingly, the Victorian offers aspects similar to Shakespeare’s Elizabethan performance spaces. It includes an upper balcony (the “above” and sometime musicians’ gallery in Shakespeare’s day) and two doors, left and right, which serve for entrances and exits. Festival performances take advantage of all the possibilities: the porch, the balcony, the stairs, the concrete deck in front of the porch that supports the stage. The house itself becomes the “tiring house,” the backstage area containing dressing rooms for the actors (where they “attire” themselves), and space to store props and some set pieces.
It was a big move and a big construction project, but at least it did not require crossing a river! Just over 400 years ago, London and the Thames were sites of another big move for another Shakespeare company, this one the original.
The Big Move – London
James Burbage, a carpenter by trade, but also touring player, leased a piece of property in Shoreditch, north of London, in 1576, and built the first Elizabethan playhouse, The Theatre. Burbage died in 1596; his sons, Richard and Cuthbert, formed a shared interest with the acting troupe (including Shakespeare). Although the acting company owned the building, they did not own the property. When the lease expired, the landlord, Giles Allen, claimed the building was his. While Allen was celebrating Christmas, 1598, in the country, the Burbage brothers and another carpenter, helped by the players, members of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, dismantled The Theatre beam by beam and stored the timbers in a waterfront warehouse. In the spring, they ferried the materials over the Thames and used them to create a larger theater, The Globe, in Bankside, just across the river from St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Seven people shared in the expenses of constructing the new playhouse, and thus shared in its profits: Richard and Cuthbert Burbage each owned 25%, while five actors, Augustine Phillips, Thomas Pope, John Heminges, Will Kempe, and William Shakespeare, each owned 10%. Cuthbert alone was not an actor, but a kind of business manager. The seven shareholders paid themselves and all other costs with their profits from playing and their shares in the venture. In his capacity as dramatist Shakespeare could write specifically for these men and for this space, constructing his plays with a specific familiarity with both the actors and the venue.
The Globe opened in 1599 with Julius Caesar. A crest above the main entrance showed Hercules bearing the globe on his shoulders and included the motto totus mundus agit histrionem (the whole world is a playhouse or, more precisely, all the world plays the actor, or, in Shakespeare’s words, “All the world’s a stage”). The Globe played host to some of Shakespeare’s greatest work over the next decade: Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night, King Lear, Macbeth and, traditionally, As You Like It.
The original Globe burned to the ground in 1613 when a cannon, shot off during a production of Henry VIII, ignited its thatched roof. A new Globe was built, but razed by the Puritans in 1644. The foundations were rediscovered in 1989, and, led by visionary American Sam Wanamaker, the new Globe was completed in 1996, as faithful a reproduction as possible to the Elizabethan model.
From 16th century London to 21st century Livermore, Shakespeare’s plays continue to fascinate, amuse and inspire. Even if it takes moving a theater to make it happen!
We invite you to share your thoughts by responding to blog posts. We’d love to hear your questions, comments and observations. You can respond at the end of the blog, and we will reply.
Enjoy. And we look forward to seeing you at beautiful Concannon Vineyard this summer for two wonderful comedies, Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew and The Liar, a 17th century farce by Pierre Corneille adapted by David Ives.