It’s an action-packed year for the good people at Shakespeare’s Globe. Their massive Globe to Globe project, which came to a close last month, earned them huge coverage and was a great success, bringing international theatre companies to the Bankside theatre to perform each of Shakespeare’s plays in a different language. Now a whole new programme of events, Merry Meetings, is underway. I asked Jamie Arden, Head of Operations and Events in the Globe’s ambitious Education department, what they’ve got planned – and what opportunities there are to get involved.

Merry Meetings is all about a celebration of meetings, whether it’s meeting the academia with the performance element, meetings between actors and audience, or the actors meeting the play and finding new insights.” Globe Education is one of the largest theatre education departments in the UK, and the events in the Merry Meetings programme are designed to support the experience of coming to see one of the shows in the theatre’s current season, The Play’s the Thing, including Henry V, Twelfth Night, The Taming of the Shrew, As You Like It and Hamlet. The Globe is also welcoming back ex-artistic director and award-winning actor Mark Rylance, who will be taking the title role in Richard III, and there’s the chance to hear director Tim Carroll discuss rehearsing the play.

The season promises to provide some unique insights into Shakespeare’s plays. Each production is accompanied by a Setting the Scene lecture series, in which academics are joined by Globe actors: “What we try to do – and partly why Merry Meetings is such an apt title for us – we try to marry both the academic and the fact that we are a theatre. Essentially, what we are trying to do is make Shakespeare’s work come alive through theatrical performance, so we pair an academic – to give us insights – with our actors, who illustrate the lectures. It becomes a very accessible, very interactive kind of experience.”

If you are after something even more in-depth, study days are being held on Saturdays throughout the season. These tend to focus on a particular play and provide “an opportunity for students in particular to come along and immerse themselves, through practical exercises, through looking at the script in detail with some of our practitioners, and to really understand the essence of what these plays are saying.” Arden tells me that part of the problem with studying Shakespeare is that from a young age so many people are put off – including himself – by “being introduced to it in the classroom, with the embarrassment of reading these unusual words aloud on front of your classmates.” What Globe Education tries to do, he says, is “explore this heritage of ideas and how we can make that really live and make the plays come alive.”

So even when studying Shakespeare, the emphasis is always on acting and practical theatre. For instance, as part of Merry Meetings, a series called Talking Theatre gives people coming to see the shows the chance to meet the cast afterwards and ask questions about the whole process; about going from rehearsals to the actual stage and to hear from the director about the choices, ideas and concepts they are exploring. As part of the Perspectives programme, Jamie Parker will be discussing his journey from playing Prince Hal, in the Globe’s acclaimed 2010 productions of Henry IV Parts One and Two, to taking to the stage as King Henry V. Additionally, actors Peter Hamilton Dyer and Colin Hurley will share their experiences of rehearsing and performing in this season’s Twelfth Night.

Merry Meetings is really celebrating what’s different about the experience of coming to the Globe compared with the experience of going to another theatre, where the lights go down and you’ve got to be quiet and you focus on the light on stage. Here it’s that kind of shared light that means the actor and the audience are able to connect with each other.”

The Education team has just got back from Latitude Festival, where they took one of the plays in their Read Not Dead series into the Suffolk countryside, weaving a festival atmosphere through John Fletcher and Philip Massinger’s 17th Century play, Beggars Bush. The Read Not Dead series – one of Arden’s personal highlights – presents readings of rarely staged plays,  some of which were the original source plays that inspired Shakespeare: amongst others, you can catch John Ford’s Perkin Warbeck, and the original, anonymous, The Taming of A Shrew.

“Since the Globe was first founded by Sam Wanamaker,” Arden tells me, “it had sought to make itself a community space; a theatre that reflects the local community and where people feel welcome.” And from The Merry Wives of Windsor in Swahili to Merry Meetings‘ wide-ranging Shakespeare perspectives, that’s what this year has been all about.

Merry Meetings run at Shakespeare’s Globe until 11th October 2012. For more information on the talks, performances and workshops and how you can get involved, visit their website.

Image credit: Shakespeare’s Globe