A Globe Theatre for New York Suggested for Governor's Island

News   A Globe Theatre for New York Suggested for Governor's Island
British architect Norman Foster and Barbara C. Romer, a former management consultant at McKinsey & Company, are pushing a plan for New York Harbor's Governor's Island which would make the isle Manhattan's version of Elizabethan London's East End—that is, a place where citizens sail to see a play.

Foster and Romer see the defunct Castle Williams, a stone fortress built in 1811, and now in a state of advanced disrepair, as another Globe Theatre (which they, indeed, intend to call The New Globe Theatre). He has designed a version of Shakespeare's famous theatrical home that would employ the old, cylindrical building, which one served as a prison.

Since Governor's 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 172-acre plot of land, which lies in New York Harbor, south of Manhattan and just east of the Brooklyn shore.

According to the New York Times, the Park Service has drafted three broad alternatives for public use of the site and the next step will be to issue a formal request for proposals. Barbara C. Romer, 34, a former management consultant at McKinsey & Company, is spurring the theatre concept. Her advisory committee includes top executives of Shakespeare's Globe in London; the actress Estelle Parsons; Randall Bourscheidt, president of the Alliance for the Arts; and Frank E. Sanchis III, the senior vice president of the Municipal Art Society.

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. 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.

Romer told the Times, "It is three tiers high, perfectly round. If you place a blueprint of the Globe onto a blueprint of Castle Williams, it fits like a hand into a glove." A model of Foster's design will soon sit in the Municipal Art Society at 457 Madison Avenue on Monday. The planned theatre would have a retractable roof, seat 1,200 and offer 400 "groundling tickets" for people standing on the ground below the stage, as in Shakespeare's day. 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.

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