Apr 24, 2015

Will's Birthday

William Shakespeare, the Bard of Stratford-upon-Avon, was reputed to be born on April 23rd, 1564.

Happy Birthday, Will. What would the world be without you?

Last year, while on a quick trip to England, my wife and I had the pleasure of attending the last performance of the season at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London. Shakespeare built the Globe and wrote and performed all his plays there, but the original Globe Theatre burned down centuries ago.

Skip forward a few years. Some time ago, when I was in the film business, I worked with many interesting actors, some of them famous, but most of them I knew very little about. However, one name cropped up a number of times and I remember him well; an American actor named Sam Wanamaker. He played the husband of Debbie Reynolds in one film I did, while in the other he played a mad scientist.

While chatting on the set, I got to know him a little. We had a few quick conversations and he told me he lived in England, near Regents Park. He was extremely gracious, but that's all I knew about him.

Later, I researched his history. He was born in Chicago and grew up in the American theatre. In the 1950s he joined the American Communist Party and got subpoenaed by the UnAmerican Activities Committee. He was blacklisted by Senator Joe McCarthy. So, he decided to move to England.

There he acted, he directed, and he had a project; a dream, of bringing Shakespeare's Globe Theatre back to life.

It took him years of fundraising, planning, cajoling, and he founded the Shakespeare Trust to finance the rebuilding of the theatre. He also found the building site beside the Thames, just a few feet from where the original Globe Theatre had been.

Unfortunately, it was a dream Sam never saw come to fruition while he was alive. He died of prostate cancer in 1993.

But his dream lived on.

Sam's hard work had inspired the rebuilding and it finally opened in 1997 with great fan fair and a production of Shakespeare's "Henry the Fifth."

Last year, my wife and I enjoyed "A Comedy of Errors," at the Globe Theatre.  It was a fine production with great audience interplay. The theatre is a round, wooden structure with many floors of balcony seats and standing room in the middle, in front of the stage. Of course, that is where the real drama unfolds, for if you're standing and it happens to rain, you get wet. The middle is open to the elements as in Shakespeare's time.

As we were walking into the theatre, I noticed a blue plaque on the wall.

Last year beside the Globe another theatre opened and they named it
The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.

So, here's to an inspiring man I shared some time with, Sam Wanamaker, 
who helped Shakespeare live on, on this, the Bard's 451st birthday.