After an almost inconceivable absence of a thousand years, public theater had its renaissance in London during the mid-16th and early17th centuries. At first it was all open-air theaters like The Red Lion, The Theater, The Globe and The Swan. Performances, including Shakespeare’s early plays, thus occurred only during the day.
But come on: once they got used to public theater again, the Jacobeans wanted to attend at night, too. So in 1608 they built Blackfriars, an enclosed theater, not on the West End, but on the north side of the river. It was all candlelight and new types of plays and a cool nocturnal ambiance ever after.
Fast forward 400 years.
In 1997, the Globe Theater was rebuilt and opened to much acclaim. A part of its mission was to discover more about how the original Elizabethan dramas were performed, and the creative process that led to them. Not just all-male casts and authentic costumes and music, but also the spirit of the plays and the mystery of the original spoken language. With Mark Rylance as its artistic director for the first ten yeas, much was revealed.
But still, it was appropriately open air.
Early this year, the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse opened right next door, as a kind of annex to the Globe. Also inspired by the late great Sam Wanamaker, the new theater is smaller and enclosed and like Blackfriers lit entirely by candles; which will no doubt cast a new light on those illusive times. Hopefully it will also add to our understanding of the creative process that led to that brief renaissance in public theater, and to our ever inscrutable Canon. (In ways, that’s what the authorship inquiry is all about, too: how did it happen?)
There’s a great article about the new theater in The Economist, January 23, 2014. See link below.