“I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,
make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres . . . ”
— A ghost in “Hamlet”
It’s only fitting that “Hamlet” should be the first play performed on the new Globe stage at Hofstra University, making its debut Thursday on opening night of the 68th annual Shakespeare Festival.
Performing Shakespeare on a reproduction of the original Globe Theatre stage, where The Bard’s plays premiered in London in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, was a Hofstra tradition for more than 50 years. But the first Globe reconstruction, its design based on research by the late university president John Cranford Adams — for whom the playhouse where the Shakespeare Festival is performed was named — was decommissioned in 2008. The first performance on the old Globe stage, in 1951, was of “Hamlet.” So too was the final one, 57 years later.
The new Globe is designed by David Henderson, Hofstra professor in set and costume design, after extensive research in England. Its appearance is strikingly different from Hofstra’s old Globe, which was retired due to the wear and tear of assembling and dismantling over the decades.
“Adams thought the Globe would look like a Tudor-style shop front,” says Henderson of the 5⁄6-scale reconstruction built by Donald Swinney, the late Hofstra drama department professor. “That was where research at the time led him. But new archaeological finds and my research of the archives in London and of other period houses suggest that it was more like a brightly decorated jewel box.”
TO THE HEAVENS
The new Globe stage, with two levels, topped by a pagoda-style roof — or the Heavens as it’s called in set design — juts well into the first row of seats at the Adams Playhouse.
Built by Cigar Box, which constructs set fabrications for Broadway, the new Globe took nearly a year to complete at an estimated cost of $350,000.
Hofstra drama professor Christopher Dippel watched from the seats as the assembly and painting of the set neared completion. Stephanie Ferraioli, an adjunct professor in scenic painting, led a volunteer crew of 50 alumni. “Most of them were cast and crew when they attended Hofstra,” she says. “Very few were skilled painters. But they cherish their memories of the old Globe and wanted to be part of this.”
“It’s a moment in history for Hofstra,” says Dippel, who makes his main-stage directing debut with the Shakespeare Festival in this production of “Hamlet.” His cast for the epic tragedy, led by Will Ketter in the “to-be-or-not-to-be” title role, will be scattered among the audience before the opening scene outside Elsinore castle. “You may even get to meet Hamlet before the ghost does,” Dippel says.
BACK IN TIME
Because the design is intended to evoke, in part, the experience of seeing a Shakespeare play in the original Globe — open air and seats only in the balcony — there is little or no lighting, other than house lights. “The idea is to make it like seeing the show in daylight. If I had it my way, we’d pull the seats out and take off the roof,” Henderson adds with a laugh.
The centerpiece mosaic that serves as a backdrop depicts Atlas holding up the globe, Earth, underscored by the words “all the world’s a stage” in Latin.
Henderson says the plan is to use the Globe stage again at next year’s festival and then to erect it every two or three years thereafter. The old Globe reconstruction was mounted for nine consecutive seasons and for multiple years in a row through the 1980s. But times have changed. “There are so many different ways to do Shakespeare now,” Henderson says. A modern-dress interpretation, for instance, would not be appropriately framed by a replica of the original Globe.
“But we want every graduating class at Hofstra to have at least one chance, maybe two,” Henderson says, “to see Shakespeare performed on our new Globe stage.”
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and March 10; 8 p.m. Saturday and March 11; 2 p.m. Sunday and March 12; Adams Playhouse, Hofstra University, Hempstead. Shakespeare Signature Speaker, actor and Hofstra alum Joe Morton (“Scandal”), 7 p.m. Monday (free). One-hour “Romeo and Juliet,” 8 p.m. March 9, 2 p.m. March 11
INFO 516-463-6644, hofstratickets.com
TICKETS $12, $10 seniors and students; “R&J”: $6