Kate the Cursed

Date: 2014
Posted by: Kate Minola
Cast: Emily Lubbers (Kate Minola), Julia Buchan (Megan Carpenter), Bryan Versluis (James Wright), Jenna Harman (Britt Minola), Devon Peacock (Hudson Vanderberg)
Credits: Golden Moose Productions. Created, written and directed by Emily Lubbers and Zoe Lorenz
Duration: 30 episodes

Here’s another web series updating Shakespeare to the milieu of the twenty-first century vlogging teenager. In this case it is The Taming of the Shrew, somewhat loosely adapted to give us the point of view of Kate Minola (“your average high school pessimist”), whose friend Megan encourages her to set up a vlog. Kate’s dilemma is that she doesn’t much like people, but her younger sister Britt is not allowed to date unless Kate does so first. The story is then fleshed out soap-wise by bringing in assorted friends and classmates, including James (a soft Petruchio).

Kate the Cursed (great title) is the creation of two Canadians, Emily Lubbers and Zoe Lorenz. It is slickly produced, plausibly scripted and convincingly performed by its young cast. It suffers from the limitations of the pseudo-vlog, because everything must be told through confessional statements to camera that are nearly always in the teenagers’ bedrooms, and there’s only so much textual analysis you can indulge in by looking at the objects they have on their walls. A restrained use of jump-cuts alleviates the sameiness of the shooting style somewhat, and some key scenes take place on a woodland vacation. But it is still people talking to camera, relentlessly, which inevitably palls (though one is not expect to watch such a series all in one sitting).

It has the usual literary web series spin-offs, including Twitter handles for the lead characters, Tumblr sites and Facebook account, and one can only be amazed at the energy and dedication that goes towards production these amateur epics. What does it tells us about Shakespeare’s play? In its way, quite a lot. Its aim is to make Kate understandable and the mistress of her own drama. She steps out of the play to talk in the language of her audience. On the Golden Moose Productions website there are some illuminating statements on why they chose Shakespeare over, say Jane Austen, to structure their series:

Another reason why we did Shakespeare over a full length novel is that there is more freedom with Shakespeare. In a novel, there are set plot points and with Shakespeare you pretty much just have the dialogue. So you can sort of take it to mean what you want.

That’s as good an argument for the Shakespeare adaptation as you could hope to find. Its meaning becomes your meaning. Kate the Cursed is not the best Shakespeare web series out there, but does show why this is such a valid and vital way of interpreting Shakespeare.

And it’s nothing like 10 Things I Hate About You.

Series trailer

Links:
All episodes on YouTube
Golden Moose Productions Tumblr site

Macbeth Summary

Date: 2012
Posted by: benben8it
Cast: Ben Todd (commentary)
Credits: Bed Todd (artwork)
Duration: 3.41

Here’s a gem of a summary of Macbeth from cartoonist Ben Todd. It’s the usual quick run through the play’s highlights, turning tragedy into quickfire comedy, but making the plot clear for anyone struggling with iambic pentameter. It’s mostly done with simple static doodles, which seem artless at first sight but which have a peculiar charm about them. The black and white is occasionally interrupted by splashes of red blood, a cheesy photograph of Scotland, and great use of one of the most renowned of all YouTube videos, the five-second Dramatic Gopher, hilariously brought in as reaction to the news that Macduff was born by C-section. It’s fun to watch, but it also makes you think. Life, it tells us, is just a procession of exits and entrances, stabbings and survivals, in which there are only happy endings because we do not know what happens after those endings.

Links:
YouTube page
Ben Todd’s Pencil Poetry Tumblr site

SHAKES

Date: 2014
Posted by: SHAKES
Cast: Victoria Smith (Beatrice), Ellis Oswalt (Benedick), Anna Stone (Ophelia), Tim Childers (Hamlet), Cathy Koch (Juliet), Cody Sparks (Romeo)
Credits: Writer/Producer/Editor: Kathryn Orsmbee; Writer/Director: Destiny Soria; Production assistants: Rebecca Campbell, Katie Carroll; Marketing: Nicole Williams; Dramaturg: Clare Thomson
Duration: 12 episodes plus two extras

It is interesting to see what has been happening to the online Shakespeare video over the past four years. In 2012 I stopped adding to this site because I thought it had gone on long enough and there wasn’t much that was new that I thought I could add (I returned in 2016). In part the aim had been to trigger academic interest in an area of Shakespeare film production which wasn’t being considered at all, at least not with any seriousness. But gradually people were starting to take a serious interest, which culminated in the first book on the subject, Stephen O’Neill’s knowledgeable and stimulating Shakespeare and YouTube: New Media Forms of the Bard (2014). But what I hadn’t realised was round the corner, and which O’Neill missed, because the phenomenon was only just starting as his book went to press, was the Shakespeare web series.

It was the great success of the Emmy award-winning web series, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (2012/13), with its setting of Pride and Prejudice in modern times told through the individual characters’ vlogs, with social media spin-offs, which sparked a small explosion in web series which treated other literary properties in the same way. Here was a sparkling way in which to use the special features of the online world to bring the classics to a new audience. It was also great fun to produce, as is clear from the spirit of enthusiasm that leaps out from the dozens of these kinds of web series that have now been produced.

Many of these series are adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays. I’ve listed the main ones in a new Web Series category on the right-hand column of this site, and I’ll be posting something on most if not all of them, in time. I’ve already written about Not Much To Do and Lovely Little Losers, produced by the premier exponents of this new Shakespearean form. But coming close behind them, and with a slightly different apporach, there is SHAKES.

SHAKES is the creation of two Americans, Kathryn Ormsbee and Destiny Soria. It started out as a web series entitled Shakes that mashed up characters from Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing and Romeo and Juliet, featuring modern characters living in the fictional American town of Shakes. When they decided to move on to a second series, the first was renamed The Town’s the Thing, with the second given the name Weird Sisters.

The Town’s the Thing shows us the interaction of three couples: Beatrice and Benedick, Hamlet and Ophelia, and Romeo and Juliet. Unlike Nothing Much To Do, which follows the path set by the Lizzie Bennet Diaries in telling the story through direct addresses to the camera (vlogs), The Town’s the Thing is a more conventionally composed drama, without any confessional moments to us the audience. The six main protagonists are a group of friends with different backgrounds (Hamlet’s a lawyer, Benedick is a journalist, Beatrice runs an online news service, Ophelia works in a pharmacy, and so on), with traits that link them loosely to their characters as Shakespeare imagined them (though Juliet as sassy kleptomaniac seems more removed from the original conception than some).

The technique and performances are a little faltering at times (though you can see them learning as things go along), but the overall conceit is capably maintained. The story moves comfortably between comedy and tragedy (with sprinklings of Shakespeare’s words every now and then). The overall effect is to shed new light on Shakespeare’s appeal, as a creator of archetypes whose perennial qualities are proven by how adaptation into this very early 21st-century form seems so natural. A delight to the imagination.

Date: 2016
Posted by: SHAKES
Cast: Channing Estell (Fiona), Melanie White (Octavia), Beth Posey (Tabitha), Alec Beiswenger (Jack), Matthew D. Whaley (Hector), Garrett Bass (Mark)
Credits: Writer/Producer/Editor: Kathryn Orsmbee; Writer/Director: Destiny Soria; Production assistants: Rebecca Campbell, Katie Carroll; Marketing: Nicole Williams; Dramaturg: Clare Thomson
Duration: Ongoing

The follow-up series, Weird Sisters, is more confidently filmed and performed than the first series. It features a new cast and a change of style, with much more camera-consciousness, the central conceit being that the story is being filmed by social psychology student Imogen, with the characters providing her with vlogs. It describes itself as a loose adaptation of Macbeth, focussing on three women roommates – a radio broadcaster, an artist and a law student, each of them residents in the town of Shakes – who gradually reveal that things are rather stranger than might first appear, as they admit to their connections with the supernatural. Having established that they are modern versions of the three witches, the connection with Macbeth rather fades away, which is a disappointment – and a missed opportunity. The series is ongoing, so maybe more connections with Macbeth will emerge. It would give the work more direction and purpose.

These web series productions represent a consideration commitment from amateur teams on a minimal budget, and are reinventing Shakespeare. That’s quite an achievement, and more of us should be taking note (sadly Weird Sisters has attracted few viewers so far). It’s just worth remembering that the more use you make of Shakespeare, the better the outcome is likely to be.

Links:
The Town’s the Thing play list
Weird Sisters play list
SHAKES website
SHAKES YouTube page
SHAKES Tumblr site