Inside LA STAGE History: Globe Theatre/Shakespeare Society of America

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[dropcap]R[/dropcap]obert Thaddeus (R. Thad) Taylor is born in Wendell, Ohio, on August 29, 1925. Moving to Los Angeles as a teenager, he trains as an electrical engineer prior to serving in the United States Merchant Marine during WWII, followed by a two-year stint in the U.S. Army in the early 1950s. During this time, Taylor develops a passion for reading the works of Shakespeare and attends as many productions as possible. Launching himself successfully into business, Taylor feeds his passion for the Bard by forming a group of like-minded souls, including such celebrities as actors Edward G. Robinson, Robert Ryan and Sam Wanamaker, officially dubbing it the Shakespeare Society of America in 1966. Incorporating in 1968, Taylor leases a Tudor-style mansion on Alta Loma Road in West Hollywood, determined to turn it into a replica of the Old Globe in London.

By 1971, SSA is joined by a coterie of youthful Shakespearian actors, such as Al Alu—a founding member of the American Conservatory Theatre (ACT)—and British thesp Vickery Turner, who had originated the role of Sandy in the London premiere of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Unfortunately, in 1972, Taylor and SSA are evicted from their headquarters, which is later demolished to make way for an apartment complex. Undeterred, Taylor leases a 4000-square-foot corrugated metal warehouse at 1107 North Kings Road in West Hollywood, converting the space into a 99-seat half-replica of the original Old Globe Theatre. Alu recalls, “We not only performed on stage, the actors built that Globe Theatre replica from scratch out of a glorified Quonset hut.”

SSA Globe Theatre becomes an active producing entity in 1974, beginning with Henry V. But Taylor’s main objective is to have The Globe become the first theatre in the world to produce all 38 Shakespeare First Canon plays in succession, and he accomplishes this in 48 months (1976-79), highlighted by a staging of King Lear, with acclaimed British actor George Coulouris in the title role. This stalwart effort utilizes almost 600 thespians and helps facilitate the fledgling directorial careers of John Perrin Flynn, Marsha Moode, Ray Tatar, Donald Freed, Carl Reggiardo and others. Taylor repeats this First Canon production feat in 1981-1984 (in 38 months). Taylor repeats this production feat over 38 months, between 1981 and 1984. SSA also produces non-Shakespeare classical fare, garnering a Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for a 1986 staging of Cyrano de Bergerac.

R. Thad Taylor standing outside The Globe Theatre (1974).
R. Thad Taylor standing outside The Globe Theatre (1974).

By 1990, Taylor is no longer financially able to produce on his own, and he turns the Globe into a rental facility. One of the more successful tenant productions is the 1998 one-woman play, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, written by and starring Nia Vardalos, who will go on to star in the highly successful 2002 film.

R. Thad Taylor dies on October 5, 2006, of complications from heart disease, leaving behind an extensive accumulation of rare books, memorabilia, museum and reference materials, and a theatre arts archive of 10,000-plus items (from playbills and posters to photographs and props), collectively called the SSA Collection. The owners of the property demand that Taylor’s family remove all items within the SSA Globe Playhouse by January 2007. R. Thad Taylor’s nephew, Terry Taylor, undertakes the task, eventually relocating Shakespeare Society of America and its SSA Collection to Moss Landing in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary by September 2008.

As of July 2010, Shakespeare Society of America is fully operational, but not as a performance outlet. SSA now operates year around as a resource, research and educational center in its permanent facility, the New Shakespeare Sanctuary.

Meanwhile, back in West Hollywood, once SSA vacates Old Globe, a number of organizations, both theatrical and non-theatrical, vie for the space. One very interested and persistent party is actress/playwright/producer/director Odalys Nanin, who had performed in SSA’s 1984 production of The Merchant of Venice and had subsequently produced independent works at the Globe. Nanin secures a 10-year lease on the facility, converting the space and renaming it Macha Theatre/Films—currently presenting Marilyn-My Secret, by Nanin and co-writer Willard Manus, playing October 16-18.

Julio Martinez

Julio Martinez

Julio pens the weekly LA STAGE Insider column for @ This Stage Magazine, as well as the monthly LA STAGE History column. He is a recurring contributor to Written By (the monthly publication of the Writer’s Guild of America) and is the TeleVision columnist for Latin Heat Entertainment. On air, he hosts the weekly Arts in Review program for KPFK 90.7 FM. An active journalist for over 30 years, Julio’s articles and reviews have appeared in Los Angeles Times Magazine, Daily Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, L.A. Weekly, Stage Raw, Backstage West, Westways Magazine, and Drama-Logue Magazine, among others.