The Bard is back: this is how 2 troupes put Shakespeare back on stage

Allison Moira Kelly prepared for the role of Hamlet by studying fencing. (Paul Wilson / Perchance Theater)

Shakespeare looked different last summer, thanks to the pandemic. This summer, the Bard is back, with two troops in eastern Newfoundland capitalizing on what they learned from the COVID-19 pandemic.

St. John’s Shakespeare by the Sea Theater Company went virtual last year, with actors and technicians assembling makeshift green screens in their individual living rooms, learning to translate their stage performances for a Zoom audience and bringing in the bard in homes across the province… and anywhere else.

Artistic director Mallory Fisher admits it was a different season, but says there have been some wins.

“In some ways, the pandemic has made theater more accessible to a larger audience,” Fisher said. “Online theater is friendly to most bodies, and is friendly to those who cannot travel.”

The Perchance Theater has canceled in-person performances and Cupids’ charming open-air theater has remained calm and empty all past summer, a decision artistic director Danielle Irvine has found difficult.

“I have found solace in knowing that the theater has survived these types of closures and always comes back together,” she said.

Instead of the live performance, Irvine created The strength of one, a filmed series of monologues of all the plays Shakespeare wrote or in which Shakespeare participated. Irvine and his team created 41 videos, featuring 40 plays and a sonnet.

Rob Ormsby, who has taught Shakespeare in Memorial University’s English department since 2008, says the pandemic has brought something new to Shakespearean performances.

“Before COVID-19, companies would broadcast ‘live’ shows or create performance DVDs, but that’s it. The pandemic has made us realize what we lacked. Companies like Perchance Theater have embraced the situation and have found new avenues of performance, ”Ormsby said.

WATCH | Starting in 2020, we found out how Shakespeare by the Sea was using Zoom to stage an online production of Pericles:

St. John’s-based Shakespeare by the Sea troupe puts work online this summer, to tackle COVID-19 pandemic 3:37

Both companies are back this summer with live and in-person performances. Shakespeare by the Sea will present Pericles at the Rooms Fortis amphitheater, and Tales and melodies will be featured in a new location, with an upcoming announcement.

“In the spirit of maintaining accessibility, we are also having a hybrid season,” said Fisher, adding that Toronto artist Desiree Leverenz will be making an online adaptation of Richard III.

“I’m excited to see what they do with it,” Fisher said.

This adaptation of Richard III will be created in collaboration with the actors and will be an entirely new play. “The text will be a starting point, but Shakespeare was working in the height of colonialism, so there is sometimes a sense of elitism and preciousness around the work. By building a play and co-creating it with the artists. actors, integrity will always be in the work, but it will also be something new. “

Gender roles and actor roles

Meanwhile, the Perchance Theater company will perform As you like it, Our Élisa and Hamlet, which will be a little different this year.

Allison Moira Kelly will play Hamlet, but the cross-casting and fluid casting in Shakespeare is not a new phenomenon.

Shakespeare by the Sea offered a number of volunteer workshops this past spring. Here, the actors rehearse for Pericles. (Caitlin Harte / Shakespeare by the Sea)

“To the best of our knowledge,” said Ormsby, “no woman has performed in a for-profit Elizabethan theater, but male actors, usually teenagers, have performed female roles, a practice Shakespeare alludes to in several rooms, including As you like it. “

The earliest recorded example of a woman playing Hamlet was Fanny Furnival, who played the tormented Prince of Denmark in 1741, but the idea of ​​Hamlet being a woman goes back even further.

“In preparing for the role,” said Kelly, “I came across a Danish myth, written long before Shakespeare, which claimed that Hamlet was born a girl. The queen, terrified of not having an heir, disguised Hamlet and presented them to the court as a boy. “

Perchance Theater Company believes that cross-broadcasting is essential.

“In classical theater, there are often fewer roles for women and non-binary individuals,” Irvine said. “Cross-streaming opens the door to a more balanced storytelling. Hearing arguments from a female or non-binary perspective gives us a new perspective on stories.

Kelly as Hamlet is not Perchance’s first example of cross-casting. “Two summers ago Bridget Wareham played Cassius in Julius Caesar, and it was so resonant, ”Irvine said.

“Cassius is a great strategist, but he’s ignored and overlooked, and that’s often the female experience. Our series The strength of one played with the cross-casting too, and it was really a pleasure to hear those words through a different frame of reference, ”she said.

Bridget Wareham played Cassius in Steve O’Connell’s Brutus in the 2019 production of Julius Caesar by Perchance. (Pamela Whalen / Perchance Theater)

Shakespeare by the Sea will also host actors playing all genres.

“For us, this is the right set for Pericles rather than launching a casting based on a specific genre, ”said Fisher, who says the Shakespearean canon is a perfect playground for exploring the genre.

“I love incorporating queer and trans narratives into the classic text because the text supports it. So many Shakespearean characters find freedom by stepping away from their assigned gender roles; it’s a safe place for artists to can explore the possibilities of gender beyond binary. “

LISTEN | Danielle Irvine tells St. John’s Morning Show How Perchance Theater Company is bringing Shakespeare safely back on stage this season:

Midsummer morning show7:34Maybe the season

Perchance Theater in Cupids is back this summer. We hear everything about their plans for this season. 7:34

So how does an actor prepare for one of the most complex roles in theater? And how does that role change with a gender shift?

“I feel very ready to enter the rehearsal room. I have lived with Hamlet in a focused fashion for 16 months,” Kelly said.

“I read books and listened to podcasts; I chose many brains and took fencing lessons. The story is now a father / daughter story. What does that mean ? What does that do to the text?

Laughing, Kelly added, “The phrase ‘Frailty, your name is a woman’ is getting more fun to say.”

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