What is your job title and what does it actually mean?
I have been at the Globe since 1999 and while in those early days I had some job titles – one was Master of the Words – now my position is that I’m the Globe Associate in charge of text. What that means is that I am responsible for helping to make the delivery of the text as clear and expressive, and as naturally spontaneous as possible. So I work with the actors and try to explain to them why Shakespeare writes in the way he does, and when needed to, I try and help unravel the meaning behind some of his knottier passages.
Which is your favourite Shakespeare play and why?
If you had asked me this twenty years ago I’ve had said The Winter’s Tale. Back then I was mainly a theatre director and I’d always wanted to direct this play, because it is so mysterious and such a entrancing mix of the tragic and the comic, of loss and rediscovery. I still have not had a chance to direct it, but now because my role is to undertake the text work on so many of his plays, I think I begin to like best whatever play I’m currently working on. I sometimes say I have twenty favourite Shakespeares these days.
What do you do in a typical day?
It depends on the time of year. During the spring and summer my typical day could be in rehearsals taking part in ‘table work’ – that is when the actors and director first begin to investigate the text of their play, working out what it all means and why the characters say what they say. Or later I sit in and listen to how rehearsals are progressing. I’m frequently moving from one play to another as sometimes as many as four productions are rehearsing at the same time. If I am not in rehearsals I’ll be working ‘one to one’ with individual actors, listening to them and suggesting ways that they might make what they have to say, more exciting for them, more fun, truer. Later on a typical day I might be in the theatre watching a performance. But no two days are ever exactly alike. I also have an assistant working with me, which is a help, especially because it’s good to have someone you can discuss the day’s work with.
During the autumn and winter the Globe Theatre is closed for professional productions, and at that time of year my typical day might be spent working for Globe Education and giving classes to drama students who are attending courses at the theatre. But at that time of year I might only come into the theatre about three days a week. From 2014 the Globe is opening its indoor theatre – The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse – and then professional theatrical production will happen throughout the year.
What is the strangest task you’ve ever undertaken in the name of your role?
I can’t think of anything.
How did you end up where you are today?
By the time I heard about Sam Wanamaker’s project to build the Globe – I suppose in the late 80’s / early 90’s – I was already very interested in Shakespeare and how his plays would have been first performed. By that time I had been working in the theatre, first as an actor, then as a director for about twenty five years. So I went to meet Sam and talked to him about things that interested me – one of which was where the staircase would have been situated that allowed the actors to move from the upper level down to the main stage – something which we have never really solved – and I also staged a fund raising concert for Sam to aid the ongoing appeal to make the Globe a reality. But it was not until I met Mark Rylance in 1998 that he became interested in the way I had begun to feel that actors might best approach Shakespeare’s texts, that in 1999, he invited me to join the company. To begin with I combined my ‘text work’ with directing for him – though under Mark we were not called Directors, but ‘Masters of Play’. But after a few years the text work took over from the occasional directing.
What are the most challenging aspects of your role?
Knowing when to say what to actors.
Any (Globe specific) career highlights so far?
Receiving the Sam Wanamaker Award in 2011.
If someone wanted a role like yours, what advice would you give them?
I have had a very lucky life. I feel I have always followed what I wanted to do and have in some ways achieved that. Though I never thought that I would end up doing what I’m now doing – though I feel that I am now doing, probably, what I do best. I had great fun being an actor for several years; then I became somewhat unsatisfied with acting and wanted to direct as well. I gradually achieved that and then the acting faded away. Then I became intrigued by Shakespeare’s texts, and the way they are written, and by his development as a writer, but especially I became intrigued by how actors approached and delivered his texts, and whether Shakespeare’s own actors might have delivered them somewhat differently. So I realise that what has happened to me is that the role I play now is a role that I have created for myself – and it has come about simply because it became my main fascination. I’ve met many young directors (some of these become my assistants) who are interested in what I do, and in some of the things I say, but I think all of them want to be simply directors, so I’ve never met anyone who wants to do what I do exactly. But my general advice would be to pursue your dreams, but be prepared to change them as you change, because you can’t ever know where you might end up.
What is your book about?
My book is about Shakespeare, and in particular how can actors get the most out of playing all these many wonderfully varied parts that his plays are filled with.
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