Volume 17 • Issue 36 | February 4 - 10, 2005

Shakespeare on the island?

A replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater would be built in Governors Island’s Castle Williams under a new proposal.

By Ronda Kaysen

All the world’s a stage, but some stages are better equipped to become a replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater than others. One woman thinks she may have found just the right spot: Castle Williams on Governors Island.

Barbara Romer, a former consultant, has been shopping around plans to plop a New Globe Theater — constructed in the spirit of the 1997 replica on London’s south bank — at Castle Williams, an 1811 circular fort on Governors Island now the property of the National Park Service. In an uncanny coincidence, the 200-ft. diameter masonry castle shares the same blueprint — perfectly round and three-tiered — as the original 1599 Globe Theater.

Castle Williams “looks exactly like the Globe,” said Judy Duffy, assistant district manager of Community Board 1. “It has the three tiers going up.”

The stage and theater seats would be located in the castle’s open courtyard, preserving the castle’s historic structure, according to a source close to the project, who requested anonymity to avoid jeopardizing Park Service approval after the review process begins. The design, with a partial glass rooftop enclosure, is completely reversible. According to the organization’s website, the theater needs an “angel investor” willing to bankroll the $10 million project.

Romer, until recently was a consultant for the London-based McKinsey & Company, has formed New Globe, a non-profit organization that hopes to bring the theater to Governors Island.

Still in the early schematic phase, the London architectural firm Foster and Partners, which designed the Millennium Bridge in London and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, is preparing a design for Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation. GIPEC, a city and state agency, controls 150 acres of the island but not the castle, a Park Service property.

The agency has plans to issue a request for expression and interest for Governors Island, which will include Castle Williams-related projects, according to Linda Neal, superintendent of the Governors Island National Monument for the Park Service. GIPEC did not indicate when they would release the request, however, “they’re working around the clock to put the final touches on that,” Neal said. “I would imagine that is coming out fairly soon.”

GIPEC declined to comment on the New Globe proposal.

Although still in preliminary stages — the Parks Service is still hammering out ideas for the 22-acre National Monument that also includes Fort Jay — the New Globe Theater has enjoyed a warm reception so far.

“It’s something that everybody’s been talking about,” said Duffy of C.B. 1. The board was scheduled to review the project this week, but the meeting was postponed until Feb. 28. “It just sounds like such a cool idea.”

“It’s a nifty idea,” said Frank Sanchis, senior vice president for the Municipal Arts Society, a public interest group. “I am very attracted by the ingenuity of the thinking that surrounds the project and also the similarities with the size of the [original] Globe.”

Sanchis has his reservations, however. He wonders how readily New Yorkers will traverse the seven-minute ferry ride to the island for Shakespeare (or other performances, since the theater will not be limited to Shakespeare.)

“I am less certain that hoards of people really would go to Governors Island for Shakespeare,” he said. “I don’t know whether it fits the bigger scheme [for Governors Island] and I don’t know if it could sustain itself as Barbara [Romer] truly thinks it can.” A New Globe Theater, says Sanchis, could be successful if the Park Service coordinates ferry transportation to and from the island with performance schedules, for example.

But New Yorkers may very well venture from Manhattan for a Globe Theater equipped with its own resident acting company, says Linda Rosenthal an aide to U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler. “It’s so unique, it’s something New York doesn’t have,” she said. “I think it would draw a nice crowd.”

Nadler reviewed the project and “was very impressed with it,” said Rosenthal. “As long as the structure itself is maintained, it sounds like a perfect fit,” she added.

Sanchis has his own concerns about retaining the integrity of the historic structure. “It is a highly unusual solution for adaptive use of an historic building and will require substantial intervention into the historic fabric of the original structure,” he said. The plans, according to sources close to the project, will “rehabilitate” the structure, but protect the building’s integrity.

Romer declined to comment.

The New Globe, although similar to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London, has no connection to the Thames River recreation.

“It has no connection to us at all,” said Jerry Halliday a spokesperson for Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in Bankside, London. The London Globe does not own a copyright to the original theater, which was destroyed in a fire in 1613 during a performance of Henry VIII. The original theater was rebuilt, but demolished in 1644, two years after England’s Puritan administration shut all the country’s theaters.

The Park Service is still a long way off from deciding the National Monument’s future. It does not expect to release plans for the monument until February 2006. “We’re in the middle of our planning process and that planning process really determines how we best care for the National Park Service properties,” said Linda Neal, of the Park Service.

Late last year, the Park Service floated three preliminary ideas for the monument. Although all three ideas may change significantly during the lengthy review process, only one, Alternative C, makes space for a New Globe Theater, as it now stands. Alternative C would transform both the fort and castle into a cultural venue for art expositions, performances and educational activities. The other two alternatives include a military history monument incorporating both Castle Williams and Fort Jay and creating a “Harbor Center” that would serve as a launching point for the New York harbor. With the monument’s future still very much in question, Neal thought it premature to comment on the New Globe project.

“Because we’re mid stream in that process, we’re not at the point of seriously responding to development proposals,” she said.

In the meantime, Romer will submit her proposal to GIPEC as soon as the corporation requests it.

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