Will a Globe Theater Rise in NY Harbor? National Park Service Invites Comment

News   Will a Globe Theater Rise in NY Harbor? National Park Service Invites Comment
Organizers of The New Globe Theater, the not-for-profit group proposing to build an Elizabethan-style theatre within Castle Williams on Governors Island in New York Harbor, learned recently that the National Park Service is no longer considering the idea of the Shakespearean venue in the island's national monument.
Portion of a model of the New Globe Theater.
Portion of a model of the New Globe Theater. Photo by Foster + Partners

According to the NPS, "Visually, spatially, and in terms of communicating the fort's military function and history, the visitor [to the New Globe site] would be confronted with a very large, permanent intrusion. This would not be the superlative visitor experience expected by the public."

Globe organizers, led by founder and CEO Dr. Barbara Romer, refute that the theatre would undermine the site's historical significance or block access to the structure, and are now seeking further public support of the idea of the creation of an O-shaped venue modeled on the Globe of Shakespeare's day — and the modern Globe that now stands on the edge of the Thames in London.

The New Globe would be constructed within the courtyard of the existing (crumbling) 1811 military fort and former prison, Castle Williams, without spoiling the structure's cultural or historical integrity. "It's a way to embrace the past, but think about the future," Romer told Playbill.com, adding that revenue streams would be created to support renovation and upkeep of the historical structure. In a worst-case scenario in the future, the theatre could be razed without having spoiled the monument.

A National Park Service public comment period ending March 18 invites response from citizens about the use of the national monument. There will be a public hearing March 10 (5-7 PM) at Federal Hall.

Globe organizers hope eager theatregoers will (via e-mail or in person) encourage the NPS to get the project back onto the list of possibilities for Fort Williams. Those who wish "to urge the NPS to approve our historically sensitive, culturally thrilling, and educationally valuable adaptive reuse of the monument" can do so by visiting the New Globe's website at www.newglobe.org.


As in Shakespeare's day — and like today in London — theatregoers would cross the water by ferry to attend performances. Governors Island is now a part of the City of New York after 200 years of military use. A roofed, modern theatre structure designed by renowned British architect Norman Foster would allow for a proposed 40 weeks of performances annually, to include Shakespeare, modern plays, concerts, films and more.

The planned theatre would seat 1,200 and offer 400 "groundling tickets" for people standing on the ground below the stage, as in Shakespeare's day.

The company's hope is to have a resident acting troupe living on the island. Considering its proximity to millions of residents and tourists, its ambition in terms of creating a physical structure and re-imagining an old landmark, and its programming hopes, the New Globe project would be one of the most high-profile U.S. resident theatre startups in modern memory.

The theatre's promenade level would offer spectacular views of lower Manhattan and the more distant Statue of Liberty, which itself sits upon a former War of 1812 fort — Fort Wood.

The New Globe has the support of elected officials and artists, including (and not limited to) U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, U.S. Congressman Jerrold Nadler (whose district includes Governors Island), U.S. Congressman Charles B. Rangel, as well as Woody Allen, F. Murray Abraham, Kate Burton, Judi Dench, Peter Hall, Richard Easton, Eileen Atkins, Gordon Edelstein, Oskar Eustis, Dana Ivey, John Lithgow, Sam Mendes, Ian McKellen, and more.

Founder and CEO Barbara Romer had the idea of building the New Globe Theater in New York City in 1999. As an undergraduate at Princeton University, Romer served on the board of Theatre Intime. After graduating, she went on to work for cultural institutions in Japan and France. In 1994, she directed and produced a bilingual adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream in Eastern Germany, where Shakespeare had not been performed in decades. Romer then moved to England to study at the University of Cambridge, at a time when the Globe Theatre opened on the Southbank. After receiving her PhD in 1998, she joined McKinsey & Company in Germany. She transferred into the New York office in 2000 and focused entirely on nonprofit management, becoming recognized as a specialist on theatre management. After a one-year sabbatical, Romer left McKinsey in May 2003 to dedicate herself full-time to the development of the New Globe.

Romer's advisory committee includes top executives of Shakespeare's Globe in London.


Since Governors Island's former residents, The Coast Guard, decamped in 1997, and the land was turned over by the federal government to state ownership in 2003, the National Park Service has been searching for a new use for the 22-acre national park portion of the 172-acre island, which lies in New York Harbor, south of Manhattan and just east of the Brooklyn shore. NPS oversees the "Governors Island National Monument," which includes the two old fortifications on 22 acres. The remaining 150 acres belong to GIPEC, the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporations (see www.govisland.com), which is a city/state entity overseeing the development of the remaining portion of the isle.

Castle Williams was designed by Jonathan Williams. Its red sandstone walls are eight feet thick and reach forty feet. It was first equipped with three tiers of guns to fight off enemy ships during the War of 1812 (it never saw battle). In the Civil War, it housed Confederate prisoners, and in the 20th century it became a general military prison. In its current state, Castle Williams is a spooky edifice whose inside walls are lined with dark windows looking into decrepit, empty cells. When the Coast Guard occupied the island, personnel would use the building as a haunted house to scare their children at Halloween.

The Globe in London — a recreation of The Bard's original Globe, and a popular cultural institution since its opening a decade ago — has a similar set-up for standing spectators. The castle's exterior would remain the same.

Foster's previous projects include the British Museum in London and the Reichstag in Berlin.

Rendering of the New Globe Theater.
Rendering of the New Globe Theater. Photo by Foster + Partners
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