My first gut response to yesterday’s news that Emma Rice was leaving Shakespeare’s Globe, announced after less than a year – and only one summer season in post – was simply “Oh my God!”. In my years of commenting on theatre, I have never been as shocked by the news of someone’s leaving a job – and in such a seemingly shabby manner (with the exception, for very personal reasons, of course, of my own departure from WhatsOnStage).
It was so oddly delivered too. First into the email inbox was a fairly standard-issue season announcement with the subject heading “Shakespeare’s Globe announces Emma Rice’s 2017 summer season ‘Summer of Love'”, which begins by saying that the Globe “is delighted to announce” Rice’s second season. No mention that it would also be her last. A minute later, a second email from the Globe’s press office with the innocuous heading “Statement Regarding the Artisitic Direction of Shakespeare’s Globe”.
It was this statement that caused, according to some commentators, “theatre’s own Brexit”. I tweeted the news, including the bizarre statement from Globe CEO Neil Constable (someone I know and like, for the record) which, on the one hand, praised Rice’s “mould-breaking” and “visionary” work which had already yielded “exceptionally strong box office returns”, but on the other concluded, that was quite enough of such experimentation and, after she leaves, there will be no more of that.
— Terri Paddock (@TerriPaddock) October 25, 2016
I soon found that my shock was widely shared. My tweet prompted a barrage of shocked, angry, outraged replies, and I was soon after rung by the Guardian for a comment.
I do not know what has gone on behind closed doors at the Globe, but the speed with which the theatre’s much-heralded new hire has been abandoned does smack of something unfair, unjust and, yes, sexist. Whether a male director would or would not have been doubted and dismissed so quickly – and in the Guardian interview, I drew comparisons with the dismal, critically panned first season of Kevin Spacey who, nevertheless, was allowed to settle in and went on to lead the Old Vic for a decade – it is undoubtedly a tragedy that the first female director of a commercial UK flagship institution of this size has been.
(Rice herself recently spoke out against some of the sexist comments she had received in the post. At that time, she said she was glad that she was not active on social media so didn’t have to see the worst of it. I do hope friends are showing her the best of social media in her defense over the past 24 hours.)
In any case, the situation hasn’t been handled well and, with gathering industry criticism – including from Gregory Doran, artistic director at the Globe’s rival interpreter, the Royal Shakespeare Company (surely, this must be unprecedented) – and backers withdrawing funding, I fear the Globe will have a longer-lasting PR crisis to contend with.
To the theatre’s credit and with my own employment law brought fresh to my mind, I’m glad that they made a joint statement with Emma Rice and that she is being given plenty of notice and time to regroup (she will officially leave the post in April 2018). I hope that all ACAS guidelines have been followed. If Rice might have a case for constructive or unfair dismissal, the potential employment tribunal would make more headlines in this industry than either mine or Mark Shenton‘s did.