This blog tells the story of how we are creating the timber interior for the new indoor Jacobean theatre - The Sam Wanamaker - at the Globe Theatre in London. It is an historical reconstruction of an indoor theatre similar to one Shakespeare would have used to show many of his plays.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Building the Sam Wanamaker Theatre.

“To show our simple skill, That is the true beginning of our end.”
-A Midsummer Night's Dream

On Tuesday November 27th 2012, plans were announced to the press about the construction of a new indoor Jacobean theatre at the Globe Theatre site in London, to be officially named The Sam Wanamaker Theatre after the Globe organisation's founder. The Globe Theatre, now an iconic and internationally recognised building and symbol of Shakespeare and his work, enables people to see his famous works performed in the Elizabethan form of open air playhouse for which he wrote many of his plays.

What is less well-known is that many of Shakespeare's later plays were written to be performed in The Blackfriars, an indoor theatre on the other side of the Thames. It was always Sam Wanamaker's vision that the reconstructed Globe complex with its education centre would also include an historic indoor theatre as well as the Globe theatre itself. The Globe project would thus provide the public with the unique opportunity to see all of Shakespeare's plays performed in the particular type of theatre spaces for which they were written, and in this case all on the same site.

McCurdy craftsman in our workshop

I am Peter McCurdy and with my company, McCurdy & Co, we were the craftsmen responsible for building the Globe, the 'Wooden O' that had been Sam's vision. As a member of the Globe's Architecture Research Group I have been part of the working group at the Globe advising and helping to develop the ideas for the indoor Jacobean theatre. Recently McCurdy & Co were officially appointed as the craftsmen to carry out the construction of this timber-framed Jacobean theatre and its timber interior.

This is a fascinating and unique project which we are very privileged to have been involved in from the earliest stages. As with our work on the reconstructed Globe, the process of researching, designing and building the indoor theatre is going to be an exciting experience of exploration and discovery for us. We want to create opportunities to share this learning experience with as wide an audience as possible. We will be doing this is in part with this blog where I and my team will take you on our journey through this project describing and illustrating the different aspects of our work and involvement in the project from the initial discussions with the Globe team through to the finished theatre and its first performance in January 2014.


Jacobean interior, Hatfield House

My first major building project in 1977 was the complete reconstruction of a medieval timber frame house.Since then with the team of craftsmen at McCurdy & Co we have repaired and restored many differing types of historic timber frame buildings and have specialised in particular in research based reconstructions of historic timber buildings. From our careful analysis of historic timber buildings and the painstaking work of dismantling and then reconstructing some of these buildings, we have had the opportunity to develop a detailed practical understanding of how these buildings were originally constructed and to re-discover the traditional craft of timber framing.

We have had the opportunity to work on many interesting and exciting projects, but one of the most rewarding achievements for us was building the Globe Theatre in London. We had the pleasure of  working with Sam Wanamaker to help make his dream - a historically accurate reconstructed Globe Theatre - a reality. Our work on the Globe which began in 1991, involved us in fabricating and building the wooden O and collaborating on the research and design that was essential before a single timber could be cut and that importantly continued hand in hand with the crafting of the timber frame.This process of combining research and construction is something we will be practising again while working on the new Sam Wanamaker Theatre.

Globe Theatre

While we were constructing the Globe in the 1990's, the complex being created around it included the shell of a building that would one day house the indoor theatre Sam had envisaged. The design of the shell was based on historic drawings for a theatre that were discovered in Worcester College, Oxford in the 1960's. At that time they were thought to be by Inigo Jones but more recently they have been attributed to John Webb, Jones' assistant, and dated around 1660. Although the form of the new Sam Wanamaker Theatre is derived from these Worcester College drawings, in its detail it will be a Jacobean archetype, an indoor theatre that Shakespeare and his contempories would have felt familiar with. Future posts on this blog will discuss the interpretation we made of Webb's drawings and describe some of the Jacobean buildings we are studying and the details of their materials and craftsmanship as they inform the reconstruction

John Webb's drawing, originally thought to be by Inigo Jones, found in Worcester College, Oxford. Could have been the Sam Wanamaker Theatre.
Original drawings by John Webb of an indoor Jacobean theatre to be recreated at the Globe.
Copyright - reproduced by kind permission of the Provost and Fellows of Worcester College Oxford

The blog will chart our research and its impact on the design. It will follow the sequence of works from the fabrication of the timber structure in our workshops and its erection on site, to the fitting out and decorative timber finishes that will complete the theatre. It will be the story of our craftsmen and their work in creating the theatre with occasional posts from some of them about their work. From tree to timber to column to auditorium you will see the intricate processes described and illustrated. Some posts may contain technical details but our aim will be to make it approachable and interesting for anyone to follow - for those with a technical interest to those with a historical interest, for those that look forward to seeing a performance on the stage to those whose ambition is to perform on it.
I hope that you will join us for this journey and that you will enjoy this project as much as I know I will.

Further Links: - follow us to find out about new posts and details about exactly what we are up to each day on the Sam Wanamaker and other projects.
Shakespeare's Globe - the website of the reconstructed Globe Theatre in London, the site of the new Sam Wanamaker theatre too.
Their blog - The Globe's blog, which has information on lots of things and a whole section on the Sam Wanamaker.

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