If students had opening night jitters before the 2017 Shakespeare Festival, it didn’t show. The atmosphere was festive and lively inside the John Cranford Adams Playhouse. The house lights were up and the actors, in full Elizabethan costume, moved through the aisles, bantering with the audience, showing off their wardrobe, grandstanding on stage. Then on silent cue they launched into a boisterous foot-stomping song and dance that left the crowd cheering.
“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.”
– Professor David Henderson
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and a very warm welcome indeed to the 68th annual Hofstra Shakespeare Festival and the inaugural production of her brand-new Globe stage. … We invite you to sit forward and engage as we share with you the tragedy of Hamlet, prince of Denmark.”
And with that, for the first time in nearly a decade, Hofstra’s Shakespeare Festival was performed the way its founder, John Cranford Adams, intended: on a replica of the fabled Globe stage.
Originally built in 1951 based on Adams’ design, Hofstra’s new Globe stage is considered the most historically accurate reproduction in the United States.
“The Globe is important to Hofstra for a lot of reasons,” said Drama Professor David Henderson, who researched and led the reconstruction. “It’s part of our history, to start with. We have the second-longest running Shakespeare Festival in the country, so to represent that and to have something as accurate as this just makes sense.”
John Cranford Adams, Hofstra’s third president, was a renowned Shakespearean scholar whose meticulously researched model of the Globe was built by longtime drama professor and former chair Donald (Doc) Swinney. Completed in time for Hofstra’s second Shakespeare Festival, the stage was erected each year in the campus gymnasium, and later in Calkins Hall. It was given a permanent home in 1958 in the Hofstra Playhouse (later named for Adams).
For decades, the Shakespeare Festival was presented on Adams’ Globe and served as a training ground for many student actors who went on to professional success in the performing arts, including the late Madeline Kahn, Susan Sullivan, Susan H. Schulman, Phil Rosenthal, Tom McGowan, Peter Friedman, and Margaret Colin.
Emmy Award winner and Hofstra alum Joe Morton, now starring in the ABC series Scandal, returned to campus during the Shakespeare Festival to talk shop with drama students and deliver a public lecture about his life and career.
“My formative years as an actor were right here,” Morton said, recounting his performing experiences at Hofstra, including in the Shakespeare Festival on the original Globe stage.
But time took its toll on Adams’ Globe. It fell into disrepair from the wear and tear of building and dismantling it over and over.
“The original Globe was built of wood; it was three stories high, and you got up to the third level, and it rocked like a sailing ship,” said Drama Professor James Kolb. “Wood and papier mâché doesn’t last that successfully for more than 50 years.”
At the same time, new discoveries across the Atlantic made it clear that what had been a state-of-the-art replica in the ’50s was no longer an accurate reflection of the stage in London where the Bard’s plays were first performed.
In 1989 archaeologists in London unearthed 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 sharper picture of how the Globe was built, what it may have looked like, and how it functioned.
“We realized that although John Cranford Adams had been on the cutting edge of the research in the ’40s and ’50s, the research had moved on,” 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.”
So in 2008 Hofstra’s original Globe stage took its final bow.
Not long after, drama alumni began to ask if there were plans to build a new one. Performing on the Globe stage, they said, had been an important part of their education that new generations of students should get a chance to experience.
Shakespeare Festival veterans Lydia Leeds and Peter Garino, both Class of 1977, produced a 50-minute Romeo and Juliet at Hofstra in 2015 to jump-start fundraising for the new Globe. The project got a boost from Phil ’81 and Monica (Horan) ’84 Rosenthal and Toni Sosnoff ’63 and her husband, Martin, whose generosity helped bring the new Globe to life.
“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.”
– Adjunct Professor Stephanie Stover Ferraioli ‘06
To redesign Hofstra’s Globe, Henderson traveled abroad to consult with the archivists and design staff of Shakespeare’s Globe in London; he is the only American college professor to study the original plans.
“I spent two weeks in the archives of the Globe and backstage getting to know the space,” he said, “and then I traveled around and explored some of the old homes and examples of Elizabethan architecture that still exist.”
It became clear that the most dramatic changes in the new Hofstra Globe would be its shape and more ornate decoration. “Dr. Adams described the interior of the Globe as ‘a short row of London houses,’ ” Henderson said. “But the people at the London Globe thought, ‘why would the inside look like an exterior?’ ” Far more likely, he said, is that the stage would have had “brilliant jewel colors,” rather than looking like the outside of a Tudor home.
Construction on major set pieces took place off campus at Cigar Box Studios – an upstate New York scenery shop that has worked with Radio City Music Hall, Madison Square Garden and ESPN.
Assembly and painting took place on campus, and here, too, drama alums answered the call, rallied by Stephanie Stover Ferraioli ‘06, an adjunct instructor of drama who oversaw the work.
“We’re not used to seeing a set of this scale or anything as elaborate as this on campus,” Ferraioli said. “Down to all the dimensional molding that matches seamlessly with painted molding, wood painted to look like marble, and metal painted to look like wood.”
She and Henderson launched a Facebook page so graduates could follow the construction. “We had alumni from several decades stop by to see how they could help,” she said. “A grad from 1978 was the furthest back. Another alumna from 1981 was in town and heard about the project … When her flight home was delayed she decided to come out to campus and pick up a paintbrush to pass the time.”
The alumni outpouring was no surprise to Ferraioli.
“Most of us worked on the old Globe stage at least once, so we feel very nostalgic about it,” she said. “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.”
The team also included her husband, Richard Ferraioli ’05, and a legion of students.
“Working on this with the help of students and alumni made this experience even more incredible,” she said. “These were people not trained to paint, but they love theater and they love Hofstra. They showed up on their own time, and we put a paintbrush in their hands. I’m in awe of what we’ve accomplished.”
The 68th annual Shakespeare Festival also included This Bud of Love – a one-hour, all-female adaptation of Romeo and Juliet – and a concert by the Hofstra Collegium Musicum.
Said Henderson: “This is all about giving our students an accurate representation so they can understand the space Shakespeare wrote for. Although we’ll never know for sure what his Globe looked like, this is a really good guess.”
“If (the new Globe) lasts as long as John Cranford Adams’ did … I’ve never really thought of a legacy before, but that’s really kind of amazing.”