Urban Shakespeare

Date: 2007
Posted by: jenng7325
Cast: Svetlana (Barnado), Ted (Francisco, Polonius), Jenn (Horatio, Hamlet, Ophelia), Emily (Marcellus, Queen, Laertes),
Credits: None given
Duration: 7.03

What is it about taking Shakespeare out into the streets that so appeals (at least to me)? It’s something about placing poetry among the mundane, a flowering of feeling amid the everyday, as though anyone of us has a Shakespearean that lurks within, much as we might dream of how plain passers-by could suddenly believe themselves to be in a musical and start to dance and sing. All the world’s a stage, as someone once said.

At any rate, it’s a form of Shakespeare that is particularly suited to online video. It brings together amateurism and opportunity, charm and sincerity. The example here isn’t entirely street, but effectively so. Three young women and one young man from St Albans, Vermont, put on scenes from Hamlet outside then inside their local Price Chopper, and on the steps of the city hall. The plainness of the performances matches the ordinariness of the locations, and there’s a clever touch when the ghost of Hamlet’s father is portrayed by car headlights. Plus it must be something of a first to have the one performer play Hamlet, Horatio and Ophelia (albeit in different scenes).

In a bravura final scene the players invade a clothing store and recite a cacophony of soliloquies while the camera swirls about them, to the apparent bemusement of the staff. Though the video’s scenes seem to have been shot while the general public was nearby (certainly so in the Price Chopper sequence) their reactions are not seen. That would be true street Shakespeare – discovered accidentally by those who pass by, looking on a bit bewildered, but secretly just possibly moved.

Links:
YouTube page

King John

Date: 2015
Posted by: Hassan Jamal
Cast: B.T. Taylor (King John), Frank Ugochukwu (Messinger [sic]), Dr Lou (Death)
Credits: Homewood & Frankstown TV. Dr D (Camera Upload), Director/Camera (Hassan [Jamal])
Duration: 3.23

Here’s another example from the excellent L.A. Subway Shakespeare Project, the creation of post and playwright Hassan Jamal. The project is a series of black-and-white videos featuring African-American performers shot at metro stops around the Los Angeles. The virtue in the series in how exemplifies the best of ‘street Shakespeare’ – taking the poet’s words and giving them a raw immediacy through placing them in a modern street setting, with passers-by and traffic noises an essential part of the ambience. There’s a compulsion about the renditions, by which the street encourages the verse.

There scene here was filmed close by Leimert Park Crenshaw Metro Station. It’s a little-known passage from King John, specifically the king’s exchange with a messenger (bringing him bad news from France), from Act 4 Scene 2, beginning “They burn in indignation. I repent / There is no sure foundation set on blood” (though there is some free interpretation of the text). They meet on a street corner, while wide-eyed man gyrates in a way that says that either he is made or he knows that those around him are the truly mad (the credits reveal him to be Death). The words and finely spoken (especially by B.T. Taylor) and one feels the power of the exchange even if the precise reasons for it are unfamiliar. The camerawork is shaky, but that only adds to the sense of poetry torn from tradition on to a truer stage.

Other videos in the series are The Merchant of Venice, Othello, another Othello, The Merry Wives of Windsor, The Winter’s Tale, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, The Two Gentlemen of Verona and The Passionate Pilgrim.

Links: YouTube page

Shakespeare, The Passionate Pilgrim

Date: 2015
Posted by: Hassan Jamal
Cast: Guy Lillum
Credits: Homewood & Frankstown TV. Director/camera: Hassan; camera upload: Dr. D
Duration: 2.44

Hassan Jamal is a Los Angeles-based poet and playwright, who is the mind behind the L.A. Subway Shakespeare Project. This is a series of black-and-white videos featuring African-American performers and shot at metro stops around the city. The ‘Street Shakespeare’ genre of performances given in the raw on (usually) American streets is one of the most effective forms on online Shakespeare, and this series is no exception.

In this example, actor and double bass player Guy Lillum takes a break from playing outside the World Stage Performance Gallery at Leimert Park. He leans knowingly toward the camera and gives us vivid renditions of Sonnets 138 (“When my love swears that she is made of truth”) and 144 (“Two loves I have, of comfort and despair”), in the versions as collected in the 1599 anthology The Passionate Pilgrim, before finishing off with some more bass lines.

Although the background noise is a distraction (albeit an integral part of street Shakespeare, effectively a necessary hazard), this is a first-rate video, with just the right degree of knowing address to the camera, sharing thoughts with the passer-by in the form of pointed poetry. A cooler Shakespeare performance you would hard-pressed to find.

Other videos in the series are The Merchant of Venice, Othello, another Othello, The Merry Wives of Windsor, The Winter’s Tale, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, King John and The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Check them all out – they are smartly filmed and expertly performed. Some will be appearing on BardBox in due course.

Links:
YouTube page

TO BE

Date: 2012
Posted by: The Voices Project
Cast: Emma Campbell, Melanie Araya, Dianne Kaye Aldé, Patrick W Richards, Izzy Stevens, Reece Vella, Ebony Vagulans, Lavinia White, Kathy Nguyen, Leo King Hii (all Hamlet)
Credits: Director: Damien Power, Producer: Bec Cubitt, Co-Producers: Eva DiBlasio, Eleanor Winkler, DOP: Guido Gonzalez, Editor: Nikki Stevens
Duration: 2.16

The multi-voice Hamlet ‘to be or not to be’ soliloquy has become, if not quite a cliché, then if a familiar, even instinctual video response to the play. I think it was the South Bank Show in the UK, in a 1989 programme on the history of Hamlet in performance, which first edited together clips from different renditions into one soliloquy (Olivier, Gielgud, Burton etc.). What looked like a witty one-off has turned into a way to demonstrate how these are the words of everyman or woman being spoken to everyman or woman. The speech becomes not just one person’s thoughts, but anyones.

Such video intepretations find a natural home on Vimeo or YouTube, where the space available is best suited to the soliloquy. The prime example of the multi-voice soliloquy is the Hillside Student Community’s Hamlet’s Soliloquy, already praised on BardBox, where schoolchildren share the words with uncanny knowingness, and there are several examples on YouTube where someone has edited together clips from different feature film versions

Now we have TO BE, courtesy of the Fresh Ink programme of the Australian Theatre for Young People (atyp), which is looking at monologues through its Voices Project. As part of the project they have produced this video with ten young performers from Sydney who take it in turns to speak Hamlet’s words – on the beach, on a subway platform, on a basketball court, in a car, and so on – the monologue as multilogue. It has a particularly effective opening, in which each of the actors gets to say their ‘to be’, before the rest of the soliloquy is spoken by each in turn. The peformances are fresh, varied and meaningful, making us hear and see the words anew.

It is interesting to see how the online video medium encourages close engagement with the camera, the performers either looking directly at us or turning their heads towards us mid-shot. Feature film Hamlets seldom look us in the eye; stage ones never; online video ones continually. It is because they know that we are looking closely, on our laptops, smartphones or tablets. Online video is encouraging a more personalised, sharing form of Shakespeare, one in which we become as much a part of the performance as the performers – through watching, through our comments, through blogging and embedding, through sharing links, through the intimacy of address. The online video reaches out to a multiplicity of platforms; a video with multiple voices such as this is therefore emblematic of the whole genre. It is Shakespeare that can come from anywhere, and can be anywhere.

Links:
Vimeo page
Fresh Ink
The Voices Project on Facebook
Behind the scenes photos on Flickr

Romeo speech from Romeo and Juliet

Date: 2011
Posted by:RSC Sound & Fury
Cast: Dyfan Dwyfor (Romeo)
Credits: None
Duration: 1.24

The Royal Shakespeare Company’s Sound & Fury project brings together contemporary spoken-word and hip-hop artists and Shakespeare, working with London schoolchildren. ‘Word-artists’ and actors taking part have included polarbear, Kate Tempest, Toby Thompson, and here actor Dyfan Dwyfor giving Romeo’s speech from beneath Juliet’s balcony, “But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?”. With apposite contemporary feel, he gives the speech to a self-held camera while standing in a street with traffic going by. He gives every impression of providing a quick confidence to the camera before uploading the results onto YouTube. The video opens and ends abruptly, consciously not crafted except to be in a form that its target audience will instinctively understand. Hopefully.

Some of the results of some of the work with students in 2011 are seen here, in this fourteen-year-old’s sharp-worded riff on the Hamlet soliloquy.

Links:
Vimeo page
RSC Sound & Fury

cymbeline

Date: 2007
Posted by: lostfoxx
Credits: Created by lostfoxx
Cast: Dominic Kelly (Posthumus)
Duration: 4.12

This is a particularly strong Shakespeare video. Actor Dominic Kelly has produced this rendition of Posthumus’ bitter speech, “Is there no way for men to be but women / Must be half-workers? We are all bastards” from Cymbeline (Act 2 Scene 5) as a showcase for his talents, but he has made a proper film of it. Kelly/Posthumus is cycling through London streets, addressing the camera, which cuts between speech, shots of the bicycle and shots of the street (strictly speaking, when Posthumus speaks he is pushing his bicycle; when pedalling he is silent). The speech is therefore broken up by the mundanity of the urban scene, while the speech comes out as ragged mental notes that occur to Posthumus as he proceeds, an effect accentuated by close shots taken either side of him, and his repetition of the vices in man that woman causes: ambitions, covetings, change of prides, disdain, nice longing, slanders, mutability – as though he were arguing with himself.

As much care has gone into the creativity of the filming as the performance (which is good enough in itself). The actor works with the camera, which frames and ironically counterparts the character’s thoughts. The editing is sharp (with just a touch of the jump-cut Godard of A bout de souffle), and the city itself provides the background ‘music’. A fine piece of work.

Links:
YouTube page
Dominic Kelly’s personal site

Apemantus and Timon

Date: 2007
Posted by: peterbruce01
Credits: Filmed by Peter Bruce, for the Balmain Picture Company
Cast: Not named
Duration: 1.47

This is an extract from an Australian ‘grunge’ version of Timon of Athens, information on which is hard to find. As an extract alone, it is startling and fresh. The sequence shows the confrontation between the caustic Apemantus and Timon’ from Act 1 Scene 1 (“Thou art proud, Apemantus.” “Of nothing so much as that I am not like Timon.”), rawly filmed on miniDV in the bright sunshine of Sydney, making the confrontation look like an everyday street brawl. The realism is intriguingly counterpointed by the use of on-screen text relaying the dialogue.

Such immediacy and roughness of technique might prove a little wearing over the course of an entire film/play, but that’s an unfair judgement without having seen the thing. There is also a ‘preview’ of sorts with a range of clips from the full work (entitled Timon of Athens) indicating something original, rough-hewn and exciting.

Date: 2007
Posted by: peterbruce01
Credits: Filmed by Peter Bruce, for the Balmain Picture Company
Cast: Not named
Duration: 1.23

Links
Apemantus and Timon YouTube page
Timon of Athens Preview YouTube page