Shakespeare on Zoom: how a theatre group in isolation conjured up a Tempest



Madeleine MacMahon as ‘Sebastianne’ in a live production of The Tempest by Creation Theatre from 2019.
Creation Theatre/ Big Telly Theatre Company

Laura Jayne Wright, University of Oxford

While theatres remain closed, the way we watch Shakespeare is changing. When I picture the audiences Shakespeare would have written for, I think of the groundlings in Shakespeare in Love(1998). They stand, arms on the edges of the stage, staring upwards, eyes filled with tears – laughing, clapping, gasping. They are part of the show – and they show that they’re there. In the bright afternoon sun, the actors can see and hear every reaction.

Right now, of course, it’s not possible to take a trip to the playhouse. Still, with the National Theatre, the Globe, and the Really Useful Group moving quickly to put past performances online, the theatre can come to us via YouTube. We can see and hear the actors (and, having watched Hamlet, Jane Eyre and The Phantom of the Opera, I’ve been very grateful for it). But even though we can tweet our reactions, the actors can’t see or hear us.

The possibility of live performances during lockdown might change that. Over the Easter weekend, I watched an Oxford-based theatre company, Creation Theatre, and their co-producers at Big Telly Theatre Company from Portstewart in Northern Ireland, put on a production of The Tempest via video conferencing platform Zoom.

It seemed a tricky challenge under lockdown, with each cast member performing (and rehearsing) from home. Indeed, as chief executive and creative producer Lucy Askew warned before the play began, the night’s events were at the mercy of the technological gods.

But, when the play began and Ariel conjured a storm, suddenly it became clear that – despite our isolation – we too were part of the action. The audience’s microphones (muted while the actors spoke) were suddenly raised and we were asked to click our fingers to make it rain. The screen was full of audience members – and their pets, and their glasses of wine, and their pyjamas – and the storm was, even if I say so myself, convincing.

Within the space of an hour, the audience asked Antonio for answers via the chat function as he boasted of his usurpation of Prospero, we blew wind into the path of his ship and – in lieu of a banquet – all held up an offering of snacks (chocolate biscuits, from me). Each time other audience members appeared on screen, there was a rush of excitement as we got to see one another.

Listening to the island.

Shakespeare knew the importance of his audience’s reaction. At the end of The Tempest, Prospero relinquishes his magic and asks for something in return:

But release me from my bands
With the help of your good hands.
Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails.

It’s a moment when we are asked to make some noise – to clap with our “good hands”, to cheer (or whistle, or shout) with our “gentle breath”. Prospero’s redemption, if we allow him that possibility, comes from finally turning outwards, it comes from him seeing the necessity of his connection to others – to his daughter, to his once-forgotten subjects in Milan, and, perhaps, to us.

Yet, for all of the noise we made, this new medium exposed the myriad kinds of loneliness in The Tempest. Prospero sat in front of a backdrop of television screens, reminding us that we were all at one remove from one another. When Caliban described the noises of the island, the “Sounds, and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not”, it was painfully apparent that he was alone and that there was nothing real to hear. When Ferdinand proposed to Miranda and reached from his screen to hers in an impressive feat of Zoom technology, that brief moment of “contact” was bittersweet.

After all, the despair of being alone is a fear which Prospero seeks to create. As ordered, Ariel deliberately scatters the shipwrecked courtiers across the island. Yet, as John Donne, a contemporary of Shakespeare, wrote:

No man is an island entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.

The dispersed groups come back together – Prospero leaves his island exile, and returns home. It’s not a perfect resolution, and it’s not a happy ending, but it is, nonetheless, a reunion.

Somewhere new?

As site-specific, conference call plays go, The Tempest lends itself to such a production. It’s a play about isolation and exile, about characters moving around a small island without ever meeting one another. Creation’s performance did nothing to disguise its new medium. In fact, the most powerful part of the performance came as Prospero spoke the famous epilogue which begins: “Now my charms are all o’erthrown”.

The cast slowly and methodically packed up their bedsheet green screens and wiped off their makeup. They changed their onscreen identities from their character’s names back to their own. By the time we were invited to stay on Zoom for a moment or two, to catch up with friends, thank the actors, and wave goodbye, the spell was broken.

But the magic may not be entirely over, not least as the popularity of their performances have led to Creation extending its run. Moreover, The Tempest is not the only play offered in this new genre of “Zoom Shakespeare”. Another group of actors recently collaborated to create A Midsummer Night’s Stream, which they advertise not simply as a reading but a live performance, “adapted for our stage”. And there is no reason to think that “Zoom Theatre” will stick to Shakespeare.

While we will (to entirely misuse one of Prospero’s lines) return to a time when we “have no screen between this part he play’d/And him he play’d it for”, Zoom Theatre may not be a temporary measure. Perhaps new plays will be written with the possibilities of Zoom and YouTube in mind. For many, watching theatre from home will allow for greater access and comfort. And, for now, speaking back, making noise, and waving at strangers, could inject a bit of silliness into our own isolated worlds.The Conversation

Laura Jayne Wright, Stipendiary Lecturer in English, University of Oxford

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Particular Baptist Reading Group


If you are interested in joining an online Particular Baptist Reading Group, please visit the link below for more information. Keep an eye on the page as all of the details are still being sorted out.

For more visit:
https://atthebookshelf.wordpress.com/blog-book-clubs/

Website: StoryBundle


The link below is to a site called ‘StoryBundle.’ This is a site for readers to find indie books and authors. StoryBundle offers a group of books as a bundle, which the customers then get to decide how much they would pay for them.

For more visit:
http://storybundle.com/

Article: Goodreads Bullies


The link below is to a good article on Goodreads and the bullies that operate there in the ‘book reviewing police department.’ This isn’t a ‘department’ endorsed by Goodreads, but simply a group of author vigilantes who seek to take their revenge on negative book reviewers.

For more visit:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ray-garton/stop-the-gr-bullies-_b_1696640.html

Article: Librarians – Lost in the Stacks


The link below reports on a group of librarians from Brooklyn who have formed a band called ‘Lost in the Stacks.’

For more visit:
http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/brooklyn/shush-brooklyn-librarians-form-band-rock-article-1.1112283

Book Review: Currently Reading – Print is Dead, by Jeff Gomez


I have been reading ‘Print is Dead – Books in our Digital Age,’ by Jeff Gomez. Having just read chapter two, ‘Us and Them,’ I must say that his point in that chapter is well made. The demise in traditional book sales has not been because ebooks have taken the world by storm – at least not at this stage – but because other areas of the digital world have. Generations of younger people have turned away from books in all their forms and have sought entertainment in other things, such as the Internet and video games, to name just a couple. It is reading itself that is being passed by, so the advent of the ebook is not that which is killing off the traditional book and by extension the bookseller/bookshop, but rather ‘dumber’ forms of entertainment.

Books will always be around in one form or another (at least I believe that), whether they remain as prolific as they now are is quite another thing, it is the habit of reading that may fall away dramatically and cause books to be cast aside – at least in the wider community. I think there will always be a group or community of diehard book readers, who eventually will have ebooks as their primary source of books and reading material. There are those who will not be lost entirely to less intellectual forms of entertainment, though perhaps some of these other forms of entertainment may play a role in the ‘reading’ of the future in the digital world (linked to videos, etc). Reading is a great skill that is being lost and the medium for ideas through the ages faces its greatest threat from a lack of it.

The next chapter, ‘newspapers are no longer news,’ deals with newspapers as a source of news and book reviews, or rather, how they are rapidly loosing their ascendency to online applications and tools. In a world that is rapidly changing and access to news as it happens online, newspapers are becoming a too infrequently updated source of news and information. Online access to news and events as they happen are so readily accessible, that the traditional source of news is fading away. As for book reviews, the avenues of discussion about books on the web via social networking, Blogs and the like, opens the opportunity for all to join the discussion. Book reviews in newspapers, like movie reviews, are opportunities for the reviewers to pontificate and/or push their own views onto a public unable to respond – online however the avenues of discussion are legion and varied. All may be involved – or not at all. The decision as to how one may be involved is left to the individual, which also translates to news stories in a similar manner. Interaction with the news and books has never been so simple and as rich an experience.

See also:
http://www.dontcallhome.com/books.html (Website of Jeff Gomez)
Podcast (Excerpts from the Book)
Google Books
Amazon

This Little Church Went to Market – The Church in the Age of Entertainment, by Gary Gilley


I have decided to start reading this book again. I have mentioned ‘This Little Church Went to Market’ in an earlier post in At the BookShelf and this is linked to below:

https://atthebookshelf.wordpress.com/2010/10/30/this-little-church-went-to-market-by-gary-gilley/

Back in October 2010 when I started to read this book I put it aside for some reason – I may have gone on holiday and forgot about it on my return. Anyhow, I decided to take it up again and then to read the two other books that come after it as per my original post. So that is my plan over the next few weeks and months.

This Little Church Went to Market, by Gary Gilley, was first published in 2002 by Xulon Press (ISBN: 1 5916 0049 9). The edition I have is that published as a paperback by Evangelical Press in 2010 (ISBN: 0-85234-596-8 & ISBN-13 978-085234-596-2). The book was revised and updated in 2006. My edition has 142 pages, so it isn’t a large book by any means.

So about to start reading the book – feel free to read it also and join in the discussion on it.

 

Book Group

I have added this book to read at the book group at BookClubIt. Please join in the discussion at the book group or add your thoughts here on the Blog.

At the BookShelf (book reading group at BookClubIt):
http://www.bookclubit.com/bookclub.php?id=404

 

The Book – Get a Copy

At Goodreads:
http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2275230.This_Little_Church_Went_to_Market

At Shelfari:
http://www.shelfari.com/books/6229162/This-Little-Church-Went-to-Market-The-Church-in-the-Age-of-Enter

Purchase a copy of the book at Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/This-Little-Church-Went-Market/dp/1591600499
http://www.amazon.com/This-Little-Church-Went-Market/dp/0852345968/

Or Visit:
http://www.monergismbooks.com/This-Little-Church-Went-to-Market-p-16471.html

 

Note: This is a completely independent review – I have received nothing for it.

 

At the BookShelf (Reading Club/Group)


I have started a book reading club/group in association with the Blog here – ‘At the BookShelf.’ The reading club/group will feature some of the books I post about here and will give opportunity for members to obviously discuss the books being read. This is something I’m quite excited about and look forward to seeing grow. I hope you will get involved with the club/group.

The reading club/group will also be networked with my websites, including the http://particularbaptist.com site, providing a social network feature that has been missing at the site for some time. In  doing so, I will also try to network the website, the Blog and the Facebook page into the particularbaptist.com community that is slowly being built. Please get involved – over time as the network grows, the interaction increases and the fellowship expands, I’m sure it will be a blessing to us all.

The book reading club/group is simply called At the BookShelf (the same as the Blog).

Visit at:
http://www.bookclubit.com/bookclub.php?id=404

 

Changing the World: December 3 – Improving Disability Access


The suggestion for today is about working to improve access for disabled people to facilities and services that other people have access to. This is a great cause and is one I support – though I don’t participate in the actual group being promoted in the book. I certainly don’t have any problem with the group being promoted, but do believe in improving access for disabled people.

A response to reading ‘365 Ways to Change the World,’ by Michael Norton