There’s been a new development in the saga that is Emma Rice and Shakespeare’s Globe. Since the announcement in October that Rice would step down as artistic director in April 2018 after only two years, this week marks the first time that Rice has written publicly about the subject in an open letter to the next (not-yet-announced) artistic director on the Shakespeare’s Globe tumblr. While I am not immersed enough in the issue to form an educated opinion either way and I have read convincing arguments for both sides, I think the letter Emma Rice published on the blog is worth discussing.
I was initially struck by the honesty and earnestness of the letter, which I was somewhat surprised to find considering it was published by the theatre that effectively asked her to step down. The letter begins on a positive note, praising the Globe’s audiences and then moving into Rice detailing many things she’s learned in her time at the Globe. But once she’s recounted the joys and the lessons, she moves into the more difficult topic of the challenges she’s faced as artistic director and why she’s leaving. She writes of personal artistic freedom and the Globe’s need to sort out its own artistic vision. Rice values what the Globe has done for her, but she also implores the next artistic director to stay true to their own personal artistic vision as she has done. She writes:
The Globe has been the making of me. Here, I have found my fight and my ‘right’, I have stood up for what I believe in and tried to do it with kindness, care and seriousness. However, in the wake of recent events, the Globe is wrestling with what, at its core, it now stands for. It is still in the process of deciding and clarifying what its fight and its ‘right’ are. I had to choose to leave because I choose myself and my work.
I admire Rice’s ability to simultaneously address and transcend the politics of the situation, and I respect Shakespeare’s Globe for publishing her words, even when they are critical of the institution and its board. In Rice’s description of events, the split was not simply about lights and sound, as much of the press surrounding it described, but was rather a fundamental disagreement about the role of an artistic director’s singular vision within a theatre that has its own singular vision. In an open letter published along with Emma Rice’s letter, former artistic director Dominic Dromgoole writes that “the spirit of a theatre is that it should follow the lead of its artistic director” — which is not what the Globe has done. In contrast, Richard Wilson, a Shakespeare scholar, defends Rice’s removal by saying that “The Globe has a responsibility to the worldwide scholarly community, as well as to its audiences, which makes it unlike other UK theatres. This means it has to function as a laboratory for staging Shakespeare in what evolving research suggests are authentic conditions.” Wilson believes that the Globe must stick to this specific mission, which he suggests was impeded by Rice’s work.
Inherent in this discussion is the question of which should come first — the artistic director or the theatre’s vision. Of course ideally the two should be in tandem, or that the visionary nature of one might encourage a stronger vision in the other. But what happens when the visions are in conflict? Or, in this case, when the artistic director’s means of enacting a vision are in conflict with how the board deems a vision should come to fruition? While in some cases a split may be necessary, and I’m not knowledgeable enough about the subject to know if that is true of this case or not, I wonder how it would have shook out of the Globe stuck with Rice and worked to iron out artistic differences over time. We’ll never know, but I do hope this particular case opens up a greater discussion about some of these artistic challenges.