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Run-through for the Rose: the timber framers’ workshop.

The Playhouse’s the Thing

To fully re-create the experience of a staging by William Shakespeare, one would have to attend a performance at an Elizabethan playhouse. The lack of such of a venue in the United States is being remedied by Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Mass., which has embarked on an audacious, multiphase, multimillion-dollar endeavor to reconstruct the 1587 Rose Playhouse, the venue of young Will’s early plays, including Henry VI and Titus Andronicus. The company’s reconstruction will be historically authentic from its hand-hewn timbers to its thatched roof, and will include a pit for “groundlings.”

“Our aim is to create a company that performs as the Elizabethans did, in love with poetry, physical prowess, and the mysteries of the universe,” says Shakespeare & Company artistic director Tina Packard. “By recreating the Rose, we have a unique opportunity to get to the essence of the Elizabethan experience.” General audiences may be familiar with the rowdy playhouse through its depiction in the Oscar-winning film Shakespeare in Love. The three-story structure will occupy a wide meadow on the company’s Kemble Street property, and is scheduled to open in 2007.

Earlier this month, the company announced the findings of the project’s first phase, two years of research and analysis conducted by a British and American team of experts that includes British architect Jon Greenleaf and master builder and timber framer Peter McCurdy, both of whom worked on the re-creation of the Globe Theatre in London. The Oct. 8 presentation drew a crowd of 300. “It was incredible,” says Mary Guzzy, director of the Rose Playhouse Project. According to Guzzy, one of the more colorful facts to emerge was that the playhouse, built by impresario Philip Henslowe, most likely began as an arena for bear baiting and other public entertainments such as sword fighting and juggling. The stage was probably added later as plays became more popular. “Henslowe was an entrepreneur,” says Guzzy. “Plays were just one kind of show.” And yet Henslowe’s arena was integral to the flowering of great drama during the Elizabethan era. “Before the Rose,” she explains, “actors were itinerant, they traveled from trestle stages—just a planked floor—to courtyards. ‘Theater’ was not looked upon with respect.”

The Rose was built on the cusp of the Middle Ages and the English Renaissance, when religious plays were opening up to secular plays, leading to the great classical dramas of Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe (who also used the Rose). “Drama became so compelling that the form was taken more seriously,” says Guzzy. The success of the Rose inspired the building of bigger competitors, such as the Globe, the venue most commonly associated with Shakespeare’s career.

But the Rose re-creation has several advantages, one of them being that a great deal is known about it. Remarkably preserved remains of the playhouse were discovered in 1989 during the construction of an office building. Archeologist Julian Bowsher, who worked on the site’s excavation for the London Museum, is contributing to the Rose project. The team also has access to Henslowe’s detailed documents on the Rose, which he donated to Dulwich College.

Another of the company’s advantages is its 64-acre property in the Berkshires. “We have a beautiful site that approximates the bankside of the Thames in Suffolk during Shakespeare’s time,” says Guzzy. “Suffolk today is completely urbanized.” The Rose Playhouse will be set in an Elizabethan village circa 1590, complete with medieval gardens, lanes and streams. Village buildings will house a museum with exhibits on the playhouse’s creation; classroom and rehearsal space; and working artisans’ shops where leather and armor work, costumes, stonework and printing will be produced and sold.

The Rose Playhouse Project team was put together by Packard and renowned British theater designer Iain Macintosh, who designed the company’s Founder’s Theater. According to Guzzy, the biggest surprise from the research phase was the Rose’s smallish dimensions, about 72 feet in diameter. The project aims to reproduce the original, 14-sided configuration, with three tiers of gallery seating and an open space for groundlings. “The Rose will allow audiences to experience Shakespeare as the Elizabethans did, because it will have the feel, the intimacy, of the stage being surrounded by a sea of faces standing in front and looking up, and in the balconies looking down,” says Guzzy. Henslowe’s diary records audiences of 1,500 people, a packed-like-sardines attendance figure the company is not going to replicate. The Rose will hold about 700 patrons, and groundlings will be limited to a comfortable 200, although Guzzy says the company will encourage the boisterous enthusiasm of Tudor audiences.

Over the summer, the project held an educational timber-framing workshop to construct a cart shed by traditional English building methods—in effect a practice run for the playhouse. How the shed holds up over a New England winter will influence the design phase. “We need to see the maintenance required before the architectural drawings are refined,” says Guzzy, adding that if authentic materials such as lime-washed plaster and wattle and daub can’t withstand the weather, they will have to be modified. For now, the team plans on duplicating the Rose’s thatched roof with custom-grown rye from Pennsylvania.

The project recently received $1 million in federal funds for education and training programs; another $1 million toward the $10 million needed has been pledged by an anonymous family foundation. Major construction is scheduled to begin in 2005. That’s not all that long a time frame for a project of this magnitude: As Guzzy points out, the Globe re-creation took 30 years to complete. The replicated Globe is now the most successful theater in London, drawing an average of 250,000 visitors a year.

The Rose Village will be a year-round destination expected to attract visitors from all over the world. “What this unique project can do for our regional economy is huge,” says Guzzy. Fund-raising efforts will not lack for glamour: The project’s honorary president is Dustin Hoffman. Guzzy relates that Hoffman was intrigued by the Rose archeology site during his run in London as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice.

The Rose project is expected to contribute a new understanding of Tudor playhouses, as well as expanding the creative horizons of Shakespeare & Company. “This is Tina’s brilliant vision of the challenges our company has been exploring in regard to the actor-audience relationship,” enthuses Guzzy. “To have the playhouse as accurate as possible addresses that challenge and expands our research.”

—Ann Morrow


A star in Asia: Jillian Shanebrook.

Model Behavior

Jillian Shanebrook, a Niskayuna native, dreamed of having an adventure in the Far East after a friend came back from a trip to Indonesia and told stories about the amazing time she had. Determined to go to Indonesia, and to experience it less as a tourist and more through the eyes of a native, Shanebrook explored her options and decided to apply to a program through Princeton University, which would provide her with the opportunity to go to Indonesia to teach English to university professors. When she found out she was accepted, she jumped on a plane.

While living and teaching in Indonesia, Shanebrook made some friends who worked in the fashion industry, and they invited her to participate in one of their runway shows. She was received well, and on a whim, she sent some photos of herself to some magazines. Suddenly, Shanebrook found herself on her way to becoming an Indonesian supermodel.

“I never would have had the guts to do this in the U.S.,” Shanebrook admits. “I felt a huge freedom to reinvent myself.” Because she is only 5 feet 7 inches tall, Shanebrook says that she wouldn’t have been supermodel material here in the States. However, in Indonesia, she was a rarity, and had little competition in the modeling world.

Shanebrook’s celebrity status grew until she was internationally famous in Asia. Her face was on the cover of numerous magazines, and she even started writing a travel column for some publications. She found her popularity thrilling, but she didn’t want to have that status for the rest of her life. “It’s great being famous in another country,” Shanebrook says, “because you can leave.”

With a movie deal and clothing line in the works, it looked like Shanebrook was just at the beginning of her career as an Indonesian celebrity. However, when the Indonesian economy fell apart in the mid-’90s, so did the funding for her projects. Shanebrook came back to the United States and decided to share her experience with the world by writing a book about what she learned being a model and a teacher in a foreign country. The book, Model: Life Behind the Makeup, relays her traveling experiences and her life as an Indonesian superstar. Her book is organized as a travel journal might be, and it includes lots of color photographs of her trips and photo shoots.

Shanebrook now holds master’s degrees in Asian studies and development economics and teaches English at Brooklyn College. She’s been busy promoting Model, and as an extra incentive to buy the book, she has set up a contest on her Web site, www.jilianshane brook.com; the winner gets to be taken out by Shanebrook herself for a night on the town in New York City.

As part of a book tour to support Model, Life Behind the Makeup, Shanebrook will visit her hometown and the Barnes & Noble on Wolf Road today (Thursday, Oct. 17) at 7 PM for a book talk and signing.

—Kathryn Lurie


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