Rendering of the Container Globe at Brooklyn Bridge Park
"Shakespeare, in his day, was punk rock," said Angus Vail at a 2016 TEDx Talk about his Container Globe project, a traveling theater inspired by Shakespeare’s Globe in London, but made using repurposed shipping containers. Vail’s dream is to create a theater that can be torn down, moved, and set up again in a new city—a way to bring the excitement of live theater, concerts, and other performing arts to a wider audience. “Back then, The audience was so close to the actors that they’d often climb up on the stage and join in on the sword fighting. It was a total mosh pit."
Indeed, throughout history, one of the Globe Theatre’s defining traits has been its up-close-and-personal nature. Unlike traditional “black box” theaters, the Globe’s cheapest tickets are the ones closest to the stage. Show-goers who opt for standing room tickets, often called “groundlings,” get to experience shows in a unique and exciting way where everybody gets to be a part of the action. Back in Shakespeare’s day, groundlings could get into the theater for a penny. Angus wants to continue this legacy by selling groundling tickets at Container Globe for less than the price of a movie ticket. Now if that isn’t punk rock, I don’t know what is.
I've had the pleasure of knowing Angus for about a decade, and for a good chunk of that time I’ve been listening to his unrelenting desire to make this Container Globe a reality. If there's anyone to see this through, it's Angus...bloody...Vail! I recently caught up with him at his home in Jersey City, NJ, to discuss this endeavor.
Angus Vail outside of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, London
Chris Bray: First off, please tell our readers a bit about your fascination with Shakespeare, the Globe Theater, and how it led to this massive undertaking involving 36 shipping containers.
Angus Vail: I first got bit by the Shakespeare bug after seeing Anthony Hopkins in King Lear in London in the 80s. It was so raw, so terrible, but even though it was so sad, I walked out of that theatre just blown away thinking “that was Shakespeare?” And so it was the start of an incurable Shakespeare obsession.
It was very different than what a typical Shakespearean audience is like now. In some ways, it was more alive, more crazy, and often it meant the plays unfolded in unpredictable ways, depending on how the audience reacted on the day. It’s that element of chance, the interaction of the crowd, and sometimes even the way the weather unfolds during a performance. You might get a real storm in the middle of the storm scene in King Lear.
I also love the fact that there were crowd-pleasing special effects at Shakespeare’s Globe. In fact, in 1612, the wadding from a cannon that was shot off during a play lodged in the thatch roof and the Globe burned down very fast. No one died and one person got mild burns when his pants caught fire, but people around him threw their beers on him to put the flames out!
The more history you read about the Globe in Shakespeare’s time, the more interesting it becomes. I could bore you for hours!
Rendering of the Container Globe in Tokyo
CB: Did you have to get the “royal blessing” from the Globe Theatre in London before you went down this road?
AV: No, but out of courtesy, I did want to let them know what I was doing, and because I love the Globe! I was lucky enough to be invited to speak at a Shakespeare theater conference, and was on a panel there with Patrick Spottiswoode, one of the top people at the London Globe, and he was very gracious and supportive. So a few months later I met with their management team and they’ve continued to be big boosters for the Container Globe. They’ve taped video endorsements and even sent me a wooden baluster from their Globe, just so I could have a little piece of theirs in mine. It was really touching. They want me to build it so they can use it too!
Angus Vail's Container Globe TEDx talk
CB: I haven’t met many people as passionate about an idea as you are with your Container Globe project. How long has this dream been percolating and tell us about your current crowdfunding initiative?
AV: The dream has been going for about five years now. It’s really helped that I’ve had amazing architects, engineers, designers, and other professionals who have joined the team and added their drive, enthusiasm, and talent to the mission. It’s independently validated that the Container Globe is practical, possible, and a damn good idea. And having people with fresh eyes and fresh ideas really helps the project develop. Nowadays, I realize that in most meetings, I’m the least smart person in the room. I have a lot of super-bright and talented people working on this, and I let them get on with it!
We’re running a crowdfunding because we want to both raise some funds to help build a prototype of the Globe, but also to show that we have a bunch of hardcore supporters that are willing to part with their money to help push the project along. Crowdfunding is hard, it’s a slog, but when we’re successful it shows potential future partners that we’re organized, dedicated, and can get the job done—and that we have enthusiastic supporters who want to see it happen.
Rendering of the Container Globes stage
CB: Tell us about your first container project, ArtBloc, and how you got interested in repurposing shipping containers for public use?
AV: We wanted to start a gallery in Jersey City, but soon realized that it was too expensive. So we saw container structures around and thought we’d be able to do something that’s cheaper than a brick-and-mortar gallery, something moveable and multifunctional.
In a way, the ArtBloc gave us our first experience of fabricating shipping containers into an art space—knowing how to move them around and getting a feel for their advantages and limitations. All of this has helped in our current endeavor.
ArtBloc is now part of the greater Container Globe project currently being built in Detroit.
CB: Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to see your TEDx Talk on the Container Globe in early 2016. Brilliant job by the way. Besides the crowdfunding efforts are there any new developments you would like to share?
AV: Thanks, the TEDx Talk was fun. I could talk about Shakespeare and punk rock all day. Don’t get me started.
The most important development is that we have a site for the Globe in Highland Park, Michigan, that’s within the greater Detroit area, where the ArtBloc is. We’re starting work on the fabrication of the containers for the prototype of the Globe. We want to work out some practicalities and make the inevitable mistakes with the prototype first. Plus, we want to show people that we’re building something real. The nice thing about using containers is that we can just keep adding containers like a big LEGO project.
ArtBloc installed in Jersey City with artwork by Anne Percoco
CB: At first glance, this seems like a damn big undertaking. But then I'm reminded of all the massive traveling circuses, amusement parks, and rock ‘n’ roll stages that go up in a week. How different is this compared to those events?
AV: It is a little different. With rock ‘n’ roll stages, they use scaffolding and truss sections that all fit together and can be erected and dismantled in a few hours.
The Container Globe is a full-scale venue that can be erected in one place for a minimum of, say, 6 months, and then moved to a new location. And the fact that it’s made of containers that are designed to be easily transportable makes the moving process easier. But we’ll still need cranes and lots of trucks to move it.
I’ve been a business manager for some big-name rock bands for more than 30 years, starting from INXS to KISS, and so I’m familiar with touring large sets of stage equipment around the world. So the first thing I did when putting this idea together was run it by our road crew production manager, who is a hard-core veteran of moving stages everywhere, and he immediately gave it two thumbs up. So it was nice to get his nod!
Construction animation of the Container Globe
CB: Well, I really hope I am there when the first Container Globe is unveiled and you take the stage. What will that moment mean to you and when can we expect to see one officially standing in all its glory?
AV: Thanks! You better be there! And I know there will be better-looking and better-qualified Shakespeare actors that’ll be taking the stage before me. I can’t even think about what it’ll feel like on opening night because we have such a long list of things to do before then.
The biggest thing with this and any passion project is the execution taking all the steps, getting past all the setbacks, and just grinding forward. Always forward. I have a little saying taped to my desk: “Vision without execution is hallucination.” That says it all. It’s just about bloody well doing it.
To support the Container Globe project, you may contribute here.
To learn more about the project, please visit www.thecontainerglobe.com