“Going to the Globe in London was a revelation! Standing there on the ground in the yard, and having the experience of Shakespeare, up close and personal, daytime—I thought it was just amazing, it blew my mind,” says Angus Vail, a beefy New Zealander who coordinates logistics for rock ’n’ roll roadshows. An unlikely Shakespeare fanatic, Vail visited the reconstructed Globe playhouse in London and relished the give-and-take between the actors onstage and the ‘groundlings’ standing in the pit. He wondered how to take it on the road. “And then I thought, ‘You could do a cheap Globe out of bloody shipping containers!’”
“What I really wanted to do is figure out a cheap Globe that’s reproducible,” Vail explains. He had noticed that the size of the galleries and of the stage corresponded remarkably neatly to the standardized dimensions of those shipping containers found in every seaport on Earth. “So we can arrive in Ghana—maybe not with the biggest budget—but we can go there or Thailand or wherever and build a version” of Shakespeare’s original theatre. Vail envisions a worldwide fleet of inexpensive, portable theatres based on the historic piece of architecture. Using Vail’s design, local impresarios could stack and modify about forty metal shipping containers to construct a post-modern replica of Henry V’s “wooden O”.
Vail brought his concept to Nick Leahy, an architect and the designer behind the TKTS booth in Times Square. Initially, Leahy, who worked on the London Globe’s reconstruction in the 1980s, was skeptical. “There’s a fashion for architects using shipping containers,” he explains. But the project's application of pre-existing structures to Renaissance theatre design won him over. “Shakespeare at the Globe is more like football. I like the punk nature of it,” said Leahy.
Vail has called the Container Globe’s aesthetic “death metal Shakespeare in Thunderdome,” compared to the typically high-brow Shakespeare and its homes in traditional theatres, and hopes that the Container version could host anything from heavy metal to punk to a contemporary play or musical quartet in addition to classic plays, introducing new audiences to different genres of art.
In designing the first Container Globe, the modular nature of containers was key. The Container Globe is: the cubes that house the seating, cubes that make the corridors to access seating, containers to make the house interior. “You can think of it as A, B, and C modules. They stack up differently and it’s got a raw aesthetic.”
To solve the acoustic and lighting challenges of the design, Vail turned to Joe Solway and Solway turned to technology to put together a 3-D model of the space. “We could virtually see ourselves in the audience and onstage,” says Solway. “In [the sound lab] we could listen to what it’s going to sound like when you have a piece of Shakespeare or punk rock [onstage.]”
Punk and Shakespeare may seem incongruous, but Vail doesn’t see it that way. As he says, “The way the Sex Pistols couldn’t play guitars when they picked them up? I have no business doing this, but I’m doing it anyway.”
Vail recently presented his plans to New Yorkers at the ORA Gallery in Greenwich Village. The exhibit displayed models and blueprints of the Container Globe, as well as a Lego Globe and other Shakespeare paraphernalia, plus installation plans for Container Globes in Detroit and Tokyo.
Vail is still working on funds to make this vision a reality, but the Container Globe combines populism and do-it-yourself design, a showcase for America’s own tradition of Shakespeare. “There isn’t [a Globe] in this Shakespeare-mad country,” says Vail of the U.S. “Nothing would make me happier than to plonk a Globe down somewhere like Jersey City or Detroit. Then kids come along and see this big, glowing Globe and say, ‘Wow, what is that crazy thing?’”