Pop-up Globe could become an "absolutely huge" export for New Zealand, says the Australian entertainment industry executive who took it from Auckland to Melbourne.

Luke Hede, Live Nation's vice-president of promotions for Australasia, says 60,000 tickets have sold to its Melbourne shows and the theatre company's four Shakespeare productions - As You Like It, Much Ado About Nothing, Othello and Henry V - are booked out for the foreseeable future.

Promoters from around Australia and the world, including Abu Dhabi and Singapore, have attended and expressed interest in bringing the pop-up theatre, the world's first working replica of Shakespeare's three-storied second Globe, to their countries.

"It could absolutely be a huge export for New Zealand," says Hede. "Given the nature of the structure, it's not without its challenges but if we do this more often, we may find a more efficient touring model. It's a really great concept, very original and obviously hugely popular."

Advertisement

According to its website, Live Nation holds a show somewhere in the world every 20 minutes and it has traditionally backed tours by rock and pop stars such as Adele, Bruno Mars, Little Mix, Cold Play, Rihanna and Ariana Grande.

But Hede says audience demand is changing the mix of productions it promotes. In recent years, it's brought to New Zealand experts-in-their-fields seen on Netflix shows, live podcasts like Welcome to Nightvale, comedians and children's shows including the recent Horrible Histories tours.

"Our core business is rock and pop concerts but if people are engaging with something new and different, we have to be responsive," he says. "I think there's a growing appetite for entertainment which isn't your normal rock 'n' roll concert."

Hede believes the change is internet-driven as word-of-mouth or online video makers and speakers can go viral and reach larger audiences in short spaces of time. There's also demand for more experiential entertainment be it interactive, immersive or a combination of both.

Pop-up Globe provides a time-travel like experience, with audiences able to go into a working replica of a historical theatre and get a taste of what Shakespeare's original audiences some 400 years ago might have encountered. Its plan was based on research by Sydney University's Tim Fitzpatrick which has offered academics new insights into how the Globe may have worked.

Dr Miles Gregory during the construction of the Pop-Up Globe at the Ellerslie Racecourse where the building has reminded in preparation for its Summer of Shakespeare season.
Dr Miles Gregory during the construction of the Pop-Up Globe at the Ellerslie Racecourse where the building has reminded in preparation for its Summer of Shakespeare season.

Artistic director and Pop-up Globe chief executive Dr Miles Gregory says he can hardly believe it's been less than two years between launching and becoming an international theatre company employing 78 staff in NZ and Australia. A further 68 will be hired for its forthcoming Summer of Shakespeare season at Ellerslie Racecourse.

Gregory credits the success to "esprit de corps" - feelings of pride and loyalty shared by members of a group committed to making high-quality theatre which appeals to high school students through to Shakespeare buffs.

"There's something very amazing going on that I don't actually allow myself to think about too much," he says. "I just try to stay focused on our audiences and making the best possible art that we can but we couldn't have built a theatre, that hasn't been around for 400 years, on a shoestring budget, without a lot of support from sponsors and our audiences."

Gregory got the idea while reading a pop-up book to his young daughter. When a mini version of the theatre, which closed in 1642, popped up, she asked if the family could visit it.

He told The Australian newspaper: "I told her there weren't any replicas anywhere New Zealand, but then I stopped and thought, 'What would a pop-up Globe look like and how would it come together? It would be a hell of a challenge to make it, but I like a challenge."

At an Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (Ateed) meeting about funding such an enterprise, Gregory, who remortgaged his house to raise initial money, bumped into old school friend and businessman Tobias Grant who took little persuading to join his enterprise.

But as opening night drew closer, Gregory says it began to feel more real and "absolutely terrifying", especially as there were moments when it looked as if that opening night might not happen.

"We were scheduled to do a dress rehearsal but there was still a lot of building going on so there was no way we could get into the theatre," he recalls. "I walked toward the Basement Theatre carpark and I could hear music; then I turned the corner and saw it was our cast singing and dancing and getting ready to rehearse right there."

Originally planned as a one-off to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death in 2016, Pop-up Globe sold 100,000 tickets and prompted a second season at Ellerslie Racecourse this year.

Hede says from its first opening night, he started hearing about the phenomenon and couldn't believe it was real.

"I heard about these two crazy guys who had had this idea to build a working replica of the second Globe theatre and it had sold more than 100,000 tickets," he says. "I mean it was Shakespeare!"

He went to Pop-up Globe's second-season performances and was awestruck by what he witnessed.

"It was incredible and to have actually had this idea and pulled it off . . . "

He says given the can-do attitude of New Zealanders, he's not surprised something like Pop-up Globe arose here.

"It just goes to show what you can do with a little self-belief."

Meanwhile, across Auckland in Avondale, two of the creatives behind Pleasuredome - The Musical say visiting Pop-up Globe reassured them of the strong following immersive theatre can have with modern audiences.

Set in 1980s New York and starring Lucy Lawless, Pleasuredome is an arena show where audiences spend time in a replica NY street before coming into the theatre. Director Michael Hurst says Pop-up Globe demonstrated audiences appreciate going into a specific environment.

"I loved the experience. I did a benefit on the stage - I didn't do anything in their shows - but standing on that stage was amazing; the proximity and all of that and being in that particular structure, this overwhelmingly high structure around you, was a wonderful experience."

Co-producer Charlie McDermott describes Gregory and Grant as "disruptors" who aren't afraid to make commercially viable theatre.

"I just respect the hell out of them," says McDermott. "People make work for themselves all the time; they don't think about, 'who am I making the work for? What do they want?' At Pop-up Globe, they thought, 'this is all about the audience' just in its building. It wasn't just about them making my art.

"I do I respect that point of view, I really do, but if you're in that mould, you can't expect the general populous to come along and support it; only the people who are really into that are going to come. You're not selling out by doing something commercial."

Pop-up Globe returns to Auckland in December; Pleasuredome - The Musical runs until November 5.