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Coronavirus may close Shakespeare’s Globe theater permanently

The Great Cultural Fire of 2020

Coronavirus may close Shakespeare’s Globe theater permanently

The Shakespeare Globe theater is a recreation of the Elizabethan playhouse originally constructed by Shakespeare’s company Lord Chamberlain's Men. (Diego Delso/Wikimedia commons)

Shakespeare’s Globe theater (or theatre, if you’re on-site in London), is a faithful recreation of the same historic venue that the bard’s company originally performed in from 1599 to 1613—but whereas the original building was felled by fire, the 1997 replica may be killed by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The new Globe theater is a faithful recreation of the original (including the city’s only thatched roof) but with a few modern upgrades, including sprinklers and concrete for the seating area. Although it’s a popular attraction, the theater, like many other cultural institutions around the world, is now threatened with insolvency after closing in March to head off coronavirus transmission.

In a letter released May 18, U.K. Member of Parliament Julian Knight, writing to Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden, sounded the alarm over the Globe theater’s possible collapse. Arguing for an increase in government help for at-risk artists and organizations and noting the continued impact social distancing measures would have on occupancy, and thus future revenue, Knight wrote:

“The threat to the UK’s cultural landscape is stark, from freelance producers who are ‘falling through the cracks’ of the Government’s support for the self-employed and Arts Council England’s emergency funding, to world-renowned institutions such as Shakespeare’s Globe warning of insolvency and closure. Moreover, the loss of cultural institutions will be felt hardest by those places and communities with the lowest levels of cultural provision from the outset.”

While the Arts Council England (a government body tasked with promoting the arts) was allocated nearly $200 million in relief funds to distribute, the Globe theater is ineligible to receive any of those funds due to its status as a charity. Instead, it must rely on ticket sales, donations, and events fees to raise money rather than government funding.

In response to Knight’s plea, the theater tweeted its thanks and noted that they are “proudly a part of the U.K.’s national identity and cultural landscape, and our survival as an organisation largely depends on help from the Government to get us through this lockdown period.” The organization also stated that they are in a very precarious financial position, but that the streaming versions of their filmed performances, available on the theater’s website, had already accrued nearly two million views, demonstrating the public’s continued demand for their content.