Where there’s a Will, there’s a way

A New Zealan­der is tak­ing Shake­speare to new au­di­ences on both sides of the Tas­man.

New Zealand Listener - - CONTENTS - By Clare de Lore

New Zealan­der Miles Gre­gory is tak­ing Shake­speare to new au­di­ences on both sides of the Tas­man.

From an early age, Miles ­Gre­gory knew he would have to leave New Zealand to find his place in the world. But, af­ter re­turn­ing home ­fol­low­ing a long ab­sence, he’s en­joy­ing his great­est suc­cess as a theatre di­rec­tor. The only child of Auck­land fash­ion de­signer Tr­ish Gre­gory and her hus­band, James, he has fond mem­o­ries of crawl­ing inside huge rolls of fab­ric at his mother’s stu­dio and spend­ing hours there qui­etly read­ing. He went on to ex­cel in English at sec­ondary school, then at 17 left for ­Eng­land, where he stud­ied his­tory at Durham Uni­ver­sity.

He met his wife, Bar­bara, in the UK and since re­turn­ing to New Zealand in 2012, they and their chil­dren have been liv­ing in both Auck­land and Mel­bourne.

With busi­ness part­ner To­bias Grant, Gre­gory is the founder of the Pop-up Globe. The New Zealan­ders’ dream of stag­ing Shake­speare in a tem­po­rary ­replica of Shake­speare’s sec­ond Globe (which was de­mol­ished in 1642) be­came a re­al­ity in 2016, and a sec­ond ­suc­cess­ful Auck­land sea­son this year caught the at­ten­tion of in­ter­na­tional pro­mot­ers Live Na­tion. The Pop-up Globe is now play­ing a three-month sea­son in Mel­bourne, and its third Auck­land run starts in De­cem­ber.

When did you first en­counter Shake­speare?

At King’s Col­lege, when I was 14, we had to edit a scene from a Shake­speare play, and I loved it. I edited a scene from Romeo and Juliet, the fight scene, Act 3 Scene 1.

But ­Shake­speare was some­thing I never found alien. My fa­ther used to quote from Shake­speare – these rit­u­al­is­tic words, words with a power be­yond mere ex­pres­sion – so when I ­en­coun­tered Shake­speare at school, it wasn’t a for­eign lan­guage, it was some­thing I knew was im­por­tant. I never had any trou­ble ­un­der­stand­ing it.

Why did you leave New Zealand at 17?

I was dis­ap­pointed by the ath­leti­cism and ob­ses­sion with sport, which is a fea­ture of most West­ern so­ci­ety, al­though I had thought it was solely a New Zealand thing. So I went to Eng­land as soon as I could and found at uni­ver­sity an ­in­cred­i­ble group of like-minded peo­ple. I was

­look­ing to be part of a group where I was the stu­pid­est. I felt I was walk­ing through a gar­den with a long wall at one end and over­grown ivy and I was look­ing for a lit­tle door that would have an ex­cit­ing world be­yond it. At Durham, I found that door and walked into a dif­fer­ent world. I made life­long friends, many of whom work in sim­i­lar fields.

“My fa­ther used to quote from Shake­speare, so when I en­coun­tered it at school, it wasn’t a for­eign lan­guage, it was some­thing im­por­tant.”

What about that world cap­ti­vated you?

I had long been look­ing for ­stim­u­lat­ing and chal­leng­ing peo­ple who loved ­learn­ing and ed­u­ca­tion, and who were good fun. I found the right group. I used to say I was go­ing to be a lawyer, but I fell in with the wrong crowd and they all liked theatre. There is no drama ­de­part­ment at Durham. There are 13 res­i­den­tial col­leges and each has its own theatre com­pany and there are many in­de­pen­dent com­pa­nies. So Durham has about 27 in­de­pen­dent theatre com­pa­nies. All of those were run by stu­dents and each put on up to three shows a year. I was part of the Durham Re­vue, which is like the Cam­bridge Foot­lights, and that taught

me a lot about pro­duc­ing theatre and mak­ing theatre that sells tick­ets.

Why did you come back to New Zealand af­ter a ca­reer as artis­tic di­rec­tor for UK the­atres?

I came back to help my par­ents with their busi­ness. I had spent just over three years as the chief ex­ec­u­tive and artis­tic ­di­rec­tor of the state-funded Malt­ings Theatre in the north of Eng­land. I was taken on by the board to turn the theatre around. We did that over three years, qua­dru­pling au­di­ences, and got an in­creased grant from the Arts Coun­cil at a time when most grants were be­ing re­duced or cut. It was an amaz­ing conclusion to my time there, but I was very tired.

Now you’ve col­lab­o­rated with an old friend, first on the Pop-up Globe in Auck­land and now in Aus­tralia. Is it a risky busi­ness?

This whole project is a re­sult of fairly deep con­nec­tions at the heart of the com­pany. I met my busi­ness part­ner, To­bias Grant, at King’s prep school when we were four. I met the other ­direc­tors at Durham 20 years ago. Those ­con­nec­tions cre­ate an at­mos­phere of trust in a com­pany and the abil­ity to make im­por­tant theatre work fun in a safe en­vi­ron­ment. It means we can take big risks and speak hon­estly to one an­other. No cre­ative project can be made in a toxic at­mos­phere.

Has the risk paid off?

It is ex­tremely rare for theatre to sell this many tick­ets. In fact, it is al­most ­un­prece­dented. The only pos­si­ble ­com­par­i­son is Cirque du Soleil. Af­ter six years of tour­ing Cirque du Soleil in the US, they were sell­ing 260,000 tick­ets a year, and that was some years back. In our first 20 months we sold more than 230,000 tick­ets, and count­ing. So, some­thing ­un­usual is hap­pen­ing with this project.

What is that?

For a long time, Shake­speare has been re­garded as an elit­ist high­art form, a bit like opera, but it’s find­ing a new au­di­ence. This is such a large ex­pres­sion of that pop­u­lar­i­sa­tion that it is more like a move­ment, which is very un­usual. In a life­time in the theatre, you see only one or two projects gain this kind of mo­men­tum. An­other cul­tural phe­nom­e­non might be Les Misérables, and the Pop-up Globe will con­tinue to be one as long as we can keep work­ing.

How im­por­tant is the replica theatre to the ven­ture’s suc­cess?

It’s very im­por­tant, but build­ing a

­build­ing is a me­chan­i­cal process. You have a plan, it takes work and re­search. It is a painstak­ingly ex­act replica of the sec­ond Globe Theatre, which has never been re­con­structed be­fore. It is a world first.

How is it dif­fer­ent from Shake­speare staged in an or­di­nary theatre?

The noise in the Pop-up Globe can be heard from hun­dreds of me­tres away. It is un­like any­thing I have ever heard, ex­cept per­haps a foot­ball or box­ing match. That’s very dif­fer­ent from the theatre we’ve grown up with. The theatre we make is non-nat­u­ral­is­tic, it in­volves di­rect ad­dress, it is about the ac­tors con­nect­ing di­rectly with the au­di­ence and telling the story to­gether. That sounds quite sim­ple, but ac­tu­ally most direc­tors and ac­tors are trained in nat­u­ral­ism and we have to un­train them to make this kind of theatre. It is also di­rectly in­spired by El­iz­a­bethan and Ja­cobean stag­ing tech­niques – the theatre we make is con­cerned with spec­tac­u­lar dances and fights and litres of stage blood. At all times our touch­stone is what the Ja­cobeans did – how they made theatre changed the way theatre is made. This theatre is about noise, aban­don, ­lib­er­a­tion and a groundswell of en­ergy from the au­di­ence.

Does it make money?

You would be crazy to go into theatre to make money. Theatre never makes money. If it does, it is a one-in-a-­hun­dred chance. It’s mainly about how you avoid big losses. But this com­pany is mak­ing art that sells tick­ets. We do re­quire ­spon­sor­ship and, at the start, sig­nif­i­cant per­sonal in­vest­ment. I put my fam­ily’s house on the line and my busi­ness part­ner put ev­ery­thing he had on the line. We be­lieved so much in what we were do­ing, we said if we are go­ing to fail, let’s go down big time. But we haven’t failed, we’ve suc­ceeded, and we are car­ry­ing on.

Could you have more Pop-up Globes around the world?

If there is de­mand around the world, why not? There is some­thing ex­cit­ing about see­ing Shake­speare at the Pop-up Globe – think­ing you didn’t like Shake­speare, that it was bor­ing, but then find­ing it’s great art and his work is com­pre­hen­si­ble. That is life-chang­ing. Peo­ple say they don’t un­der­stand Shake­speare or it’s bor­ing, but if you see it per­formed prop­erly, it is very in­ter­est­ing and what you see on stage stays with you. You can gain great com­fort and in­sight in your life from Shake­speare – he mir­rors our lives so well.

“For a long time Shake­speare has been re­garded as an elit­ist high-art form, a bit like opera, but it’s find­ing a new au­di­ence. ”

What’s the great­est in­sight you’ve gained from Shake­speare’s plays?

Most of them are about death and love, with many of them about bring­ing peo­ple back to life, so peo­ple you thought were dead, you find again. For all of us in life, the de­sire to raise the dead, to undo loss, is the most pow­er­ful thing. It’s based on love, which is the most im­por­tant hu­man emo­tion. In Shake­speare’s plays, he al­lows us to see char­ac­ters re­cover their loved ones. When twins are re­united af­ter be­liev­ing each other dead, when stat­ues of dead peo­ple come back to life, those are very pow­er­ful mo­ments, very the­atri­cal mo­ments, and I gain so­lace ev­ery day from Shake­speare. Hardly a day goes by when I am not struck by some in­ci­dent in life that makes me think of Shake­speare’s words.

The first Pop-up Globe, a tem­po­rary replica of Shake­speare’s sec­ond Globe, ap­peared in Auck­land in 2016.

Gre­gory and busi­ness part­ner To­bias Grant in front of the first replica Pop-up Globe in 2016.

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