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The Hofstra Shakespeare Festival

The Hofstra Shakespeare Festival
The Hofstra Globe Stage
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Hofstra University’s Annual Shakespeare Festival began in 1950 with a production of Julius Caesar. Throughout its’ long history the Festival has presented a varied selection of the plays of William Shakespeare, lesser-known short plays from the period, musicales, and scenes from Shakespeare’s plays performed by high school groups from the greater New York area. Each year a different piece is performed on the main stage, representing one of 26 plays of the Shakespearean canon presented at the festival.

The Hofstra Globe Stage

Hofstra University’s 68th Annual Shakespeare Festival in 2017 was performed the way Shakespeare himself might have envisioned it: on a Globe Stage. Nine years after the University retired its historic first Globe Stage, a new one - the most authentic replica in America - made its debut with the premiere of Hamlet.

Hofstra Professor Christopher Dippel, who directed that production of Hamlet, said, “The Hofstra Globe Stage gives us an opportunity to explore Shakespeare’s plays the way they were originally presented.”

Hofstra Drama Professor David Henderson, the designer of the Hofstra Globe Stage reconstruction, spent time abroad in consultation with the archivists and design staff of Shakespeare’s Globe in London. He is the only American college professor to have the opportunity to study the original plans.

The first Hofstra Globe Stage was built in 1951 under the direction of Donald (Doc) Swinney. It was based on the meticulous research of John Cranford Adams, Hofstra’s third president and a renowned Shakespearean scholar, whose dissertation was “The Globe Playhouse – Its Design and Construction.”

The 5/6 replica was completed in time for Hofstra’s second Shakespeare Festival and erected in the campus gymnasium. The Globe stage was given a permanent home in 1958 in the Hofstra Playhouse (later renamed the John Cranford Adams Playhouse). For many decades, the Shakespeare Festival was presented on this Globe and featured many students who went on to success in the performing arts –the late Madeline Kahn, Susan Sullivan, Susan H. Schulman, Joe Morton, Phil Rosenthal, Tom McGowan, Peter Friedman and Margaret Colin, to name a few.

As Professor Henderson explained in a fall 2016 lecture about his research, the shape of the first Hofstra Globe stage was altered due to fire code, and it became used more sporadically due to age and the strain of building and dismantling it for so many years. But in the end, new research led to the first stage’s retirement in 2008.

In 1989 archaeologists in London uncovered the almost-intact foundation of the 16th century Rose Theatre and a partial foundation of the Globe. These discoveries, along with modern imaging techniques and computer analysis of original documents, created a much clearer picture of how the Globe was built, what it may have looked like, and how it functioned. “We wouldn’t use a textbook from the 1950s to teach our students today,” Professor Henderson said. “The stage is our textbook, or one of our many textbooks. We couldn’t continue to train our students on something that doesn’t connect to what we now know existed.”

The biggest differences in the new Hofstra Globe Stage will be in its shape and more ornate decoration. “Dr. Adams described the interior of the Globe as ‘a short row of London houses,” said Professor Henderson. “But the people at the London Globe thought why would the inside look like an exterior?” Further research indicates that it is more likely the stage would have had “brilliant jewel colors” and not a Tudor interior.

Not long after Hofstra retired the first Globe Stage, drama alumni began asking if there were plans to build a new one.  Lydia Leeds and Peter Garino, both Class of 1977, who performed in the Shakespeare Festival together during their student years, produced a 50-Minute Romeo and Juliet at the University in 2015 to jumpstart fundraising for the new Hofstra Globe Stage. Alumni Phil and Monica Rosenthal and Toni Sosnoff and her husband Martin gave generous gifts to fund the constructionIn addition to fundraising, alumni also found other ways to support the project.

Though construction on major set pieces took place off campus at Cigar Box Studios - an upstate scenery shop that has worked with Radio City Music Hall, Madison Square Garden, ESPN and other production companies - assembly and painting took place on campus. Stephanie Stover Ferraioli ‘06, an adjunct instructor of drama, supervised the painting of the Hofstra Globe Stage and was instrumental in rallying other alumni to pitch in. She and Professor Henderson started a Facebook page so alums could follow the construction. “We had alumni from several decades stop by to see how they could help,” said Ferraioli. “Most of us worked on the old Globe stage at least once, so we feel very nostalgic about it. This project brings the past to the present and the present to the future, because we know this stage will be used for a really long time.”

When asked how the new Hofstra Globe Stage will impact the education and performance for Hofstra actors, Professor Dippel said it’s a time travel experience for the students. “The Hofstra Globe Stage helps us to understand how the stories were told and look at some of the challenges Shakespeare’s company was wrestling with. For example, when we presented Hamlet, the house lights were on. We were interacting directly with the audience in the same way Shakespeare’s company would have, because they performed outside in daylight.

“In addition to that, we had to discover how long it takes to go from the Lords Gallery upstairs down to the stage. That is why certain scenes have an extended ending – because one character has to exit and then enter immediately afterward. There are so many discoveries you make working on a stage like this.”

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