Nfld. & Labrador

All the world (wide web)'s a stage: Shakespeare festival goes online

Shakespeare by the Sea, a St. John's-based troupe known for staging plays in unusual locations, is taking this summer's work to a new frontier: cyberspace.

Pericles, Prince of Tyre and a collection of scenes and monologues can be viewed online

Instead of rugged coastlines and pristine parks as its stage, Shakespeare by the Sea is going online this summer. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

Shakespeare by the Sea, a St. John's-based troupe known for staging plays in unusual locations, is taking this summer's work to a new frontier: cyberspace.

This year, Shakespeare by the Sea will be using Zoom instead of scenic coastal backdrops as its stage. 

"One of the reasons not to go forward would have been the loss of box office receipts, which generally amounts to $12,000 to 15,000 a year for us, and that helps us meet our ongoing expenses," Paul Rowe, the production's artistic director, told CBC News on Tuesday.

"In favour of going ahead we really wanted to be there for our community this year. We wanted to combat the effects of social isolation that were being created by the pandemic. We wanted to give people something purposeful and creative to do."

Rowe said the group also wanted to preserve its production streak, as this summer marks its 28th straight season.

The focus this year will be a full production of Pericles, Prince of Tyre, which will feature 26 different actors via video-conference, and a collection of scenes and monologues called Shakespearean Shorts.  

Rowe said the group has succeeded with its final product, but it came with a learning curve of figuring out different digital backgrounds, how to use costumes for a two-dimensional screen, how to create energy for the scenes and how to use the software effectively. 

Shakespeare by the Sea is going online for the 2020 season. (Submitted by Shakespeare by the Sea)

Costume designer Alison Helmer said "Zoom theatre" is what's happening in the industry right now. 

"It's interesting because it's not really traditional costume design in the same way that I studied it. We're only costuming from the waist up, so I have no idea what they're wearing on the bottom," Helmer said with a laugh. 

"So we have to convey character really with only a third of the actor's bodies."

Helmer said costuming has been a challenge, but adds the experience allows her to see costumes in a different way.

The show must go on

Actor Luke Rowe, no relation to Paul Rowe, said he had a lot of work lined up for the summer, but all of it was cancelled due to the pandemic. 

When he heard Shakespeare by the Sea would be moving online, he jumped at the opportunity to get involved. 

"I was surprised, but very pleased, and hopped on board right away as soon as I knew," said the actor, who will portray Pericles.

"It's incredibly different, I guess you could say, to rehearse over a computer sitting at your desk instead of on stage."

The full production has been recorded and will debut Friday. Links can be found on the company's website.  

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Jeremy Eaton

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