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What is it like to be a groundling at Shakespeare’s Globe?

Updated: Jul 15, 2022

The Bee watched Julius Caesar in May 2022 at the Shakespeare’s Globe standing in the yard.

It isn’t for everyone, but the Bee loved it.

What is a groundling?

A groundling, a.k.a. a plebeian, is an audience member at the Shakespeare’s Globe who stands in the yard to watch the play (as opposed to those who sit in the galleries)

Do you have to stand for the entire duration of the play?

Yes, expect to stand for about 3 hours at least.

Can you sit down if you start to get tired?

If you thought you could bring your foldable chair or stool and seat yourself nicely, you’re wrong. If you thought you could sit on the floor and make a nice picnic of the experience, you can’t. The second you sit down, an usher will come find you and ask you to stand back up. You can only sit down during the interval and must stand the second the show begins.

It looks like the yard is open to sky. What if it rains?

You get wet. Unless you thought to carry an umbrella. No, you can’t run for shelter into the galleries if it starts pouring. There just isn’t enough room.

Do you get your own standing spot in the yard?

No, there isn’t going to be a cleanly marked spot on the yard floor reserved for you to stand on. You stand wherever you find enough space to plant your two feet. The Bee is aware that some ticket websites (TodayTix) for example give you the choice of selecting where you want to stand, and your ticket might even have a seat number (or is it called a stand number?) But in the Bee’s experience, nobody respects these seat numbers and everyone just pools together in the yard. You can move about the yard freely (not during the performance of course) and find your favourite spot.

What if it’s too cold in the yard?

You keep forgetting you’re a ‘plebeian‘ (read: commoners) in this set-up. So nobody cares. Besides, this auditorium runs shows only in the summer.

That sounds awful! Why on earth would you give up the comfort of a nice warm seat and brave the elements on your feet for a full 3 hours?!

Three BIG reasons.

First, groundling tickets cost only £5. Even the worst of the seated tickets (with a hundred obstructions in your view) cost at least £25. The Globe is a very expensive theatre and the Bee has almost never seen it run any discounts or offers or concessions.

Second, you get the BEST views of the stage as a groundling. As the Bee’s picture of the stage shows, you are closer to the stage than anyone sitting in the galleries. Sure, you might have to deal with a bunch of heads in your view if you’re not tall, but usually people are pretty considerate and it’s fair game for short people to squeeze ahead in front of taller people.

Third, many times the actors make their entrances and exits amidst the audience, and even shout their lines while standing amidst the audience! You get to see them super closely. For example, the Bee got to shake hands with Julius Caesar as he pretended to mingle with his plebeian countrymen - he just went around shaking hands with the audience members and saying “Welcome to Rome”. And (spoiler ahead) when Caesar was dying, he was frantically trying to reach for an audience member (to hold her hand or something, as a dying person desperate for help might do. The woman was dumbfounded and didn’t know where to look. It was rather entertaining for the rest of us.) So in many ways, the play becomes a very nice immersive experience.

Now the Bee gets excited by these little things but understands that others might not. Perhaps these are not the elements of the play that you like the most and would stand three hours non-stop for. The Bee is certainly not going to recommend it to anyone who’s not used to standing for long periods at a stretch. It can cause pain and sometimes it can even make you feel dizzy if you stand completely still for that long. Don’t do it unless you know you’ll be okay.

If you do decide to watch a play from the yard, remember to 1) check the weather and carry layers/umbrellas/hats as needed, 2) wear comfortable standing-friendly shoes, and 3) choose a good spot to stand as it’ll be difficult to move about once the play begins (and remember that your standing-seat numbers on your ticket mean nothing).

Would Theatre Bee be a groundling again?

Yes, without a second’s thought. For the view.


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