Emma Rice, Shakespeare’s Globe Director, Offers Some Parting Shots

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Visitors at Shakespeare’s Globe in 2014. Credit Luke Tchalenko for The New York Times

LONDON — Emma Rice, whose short stint as the artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe ended with a spat with the board and a sudden departure from the role, wrote a spirited letter to her successor that was posted to the theater’s website this week.

In the letter, addressed to the as-yet-unnamed “future artistic director” of the theater, Ms. Rice described the position as the “most precious of jobs,” and suggested that her decision to leave resulted from disagreements with the theater’s board. “As important and beloved as the Globe is to me, the Board did not love and respect me back,” she wrote, adding: “They began to talk of a new set of rules that I did not sign up to and could not stand by. Nothing is worth giving away my artistic freedom for — it has been too hard fought for.”

Ms. Rice, who came to the Globe from the immersive theater company Kneehigh, swan-dived into her role in the spring of 2016, programming several tweaked updates of Shakespeare’s plays, including “Imogen,” a version of “Cymbeline” that reimagined the work as a female-driven play; and a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” starring the cabaret star Meow Meow. Before she took the job at the Globe, Ms. Rice had drawn headlines for comments including an oft-circulated statement that she became “very sleepy” when trying to read Shakespeare’s plays.

The statement issued by the theater announcing her departure said that the decision was mutual, but acknowledged that it came after a disagreement between Ms. Rice and the board about her use of technology, like artificial lighting, in her productions. The Globe, an open-air theater built in 1997, is a relatively loyal re-creation of the theater where many of Shakespeare’s works were originally performed.

“I have learnt to love Shakespeare,” Ms. Rice wrote in the note on the website, adding, “I have learnt, never again, to allow myself to be excluded from the rooms where decisions are made.” She did not specify which rooms those were.

The theater also published a letter from Ms. Rice’s predecessor, Dominic Dromgoole, which he “addressed to the fearless and fortunate soul” who will next take on the artistic director role. “The fact that Emma has been stopped in fulfilling her ambitions is heartbreaking,” he wrote in his letter. “It is also wrong. The spirit of a theater is that it should follow the lead of its artistic director.”


Emma Rice. Credit Sarah Lee

He added that the theater’s next director must insist on the autonomy of that role: “Everybody wants to be artistic director. They can’t all be. Only you can.”

Mr. Dromgoole also suggested in the letter that he saw naturally-lit productions as central to the theater’s mission.

A publicist for the theater said on Friday that neither Ms. Rice nor Mr. Dromgoole was available for further comment.

Ms. Rice will stay in her role until April 2018. Applications for the position of artistic director are being accepted until 5 p.m. on Monday, April 24, according to the theater’s website.

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