Prospero’s Dream

Date: 2010
Posted by: petrarchian
Cast: None
Credits: Not given
Duration: 2.51

Online videos that show a truly imaginative response to Shakespeare, rather than simply reflecting that which was already there, are rare. Here’s one. The filmmaker (presumably petrachian) has produced an interpretation of Prospero’s speech “Our revels now are ended” without using a single word of that speech. Instead it offers a hypnotic interweaving of images (dripping water, ice floes, text, film clips, fading in and out of one another), music and muffled speech. The video is specifically a tribute to Peter Greenaway, as the filmmaker notes on the YouTube page. Greenway’s films include the idiosyncratic feature film interpretation of The Tempest, Prospero’s Books (1991), in which, as petrachian puts it, Greenaway “layers all artistic modes into an expression that denies simple narrative”. The video imitates Greenaway’s style (particularly his fascination with the look of electronic video) and the film clips referenced are from Greenaway films, though so buried in the visual mix that it is not easy to distinguish them.

The result feels like the kind of dream we would expect Prospero to have, both Shakespeare’s creation, and the dream of Greenaway’s Prospero: the homage and the thing itself. The filmmaker calls this video response “simply a dream narrative, a wrestless [sic] subconscious, a churning of impressions which mean nothing at all”. There is meaning, though, in showing through mysterious video imagery and sound how the insubstantial pageant of the drama has faded, and with it certainty and belief. A small work of art, impeccably formed.

Links: YouTube page

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Macbeth

Date: 2012
Posted by: TheGeekyBlonde
Cast: Rhiannon McGavin (narrator, Sockspeare, First Witch, Second Witch, Third Witch, Duncan, Captain, Ross, Macbeth, Banquo, Malcolm, Lady Macbeth, Messenger, Fleance, the Porter, Macduff, Donalbain, First Murderer, Second Murderer, Third Murderer, Lennox, Hecate, Gentlewoman, The Doctor, Siward, Seyton, Young Siward)
Credits: Not given
Duration: 14.03

Among the vast number of Shakespearean videos that now exist, so many of them doing the same thing and seldom very well, it is difficult to stand out – and still more difficult to establish a distinctive style. One filmmaker who has achieved this is Los Angeles-based Rhiannon McGavin, aka The Geeky Blonde. McGavin produces videos on subjects as diverse as poetry and skincare, and her playlist Condensed Shakespeare presents summaries of the plays in an inventive style all of her own.

McGavin’s videos give us the essential plot lines, with occasional snippets of Shakespeare’s own words. She is the sole performer, cutting between herself as one character and the next (entailing many bargain-basement costume changes, mostly hats), at the same time cutting between the matter in hand and her wry 21st-century perspective on the plays’ surface absurdities. The videos simultaneously mock and honour their subject. As each character is introduced there is a comic character description written alongside their name at the foot of the screen. These are videos with their own graphical as well as visual style.

The example here, Macbeth, is typical of the filmmaker’s invention. The story is presented as a Hallowe’en treat, with McGavin narrating the story (dressed as the ghost of herself) at the encouragement of her sidekick sock puppet Sockspeare. She then plays twenty-five characters from the play, rapidly cutting from one to the next, all shot in her house and garden in a style that looks charmingly home-made yet clearly involved meticulous preparation and not a little videomaking skill – a model exercise in how to produce Shakespeare out of next to nothing.

McGavin has made similar videos for The Merchant of Venice, Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale, Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet, The Comedy of Errors and Titus Andronicus, between 2011-2013. She does not repeat herself; while keeping to her distinctive style, she plays different variations on the model each time. It is a remarkable piece of sustained invention, auteurist indeed. She performs the Shakespeare that is in her head. It is as though she were reading through the play, with all of the other matters that would be going on in a young 21st Century persona’s mind, a mixture of popular culture references (for her YouTube audience to hook on to), puzzlement, delight, and social critique. Shakespeare’s plays are an archive of attitudes and assumptions a young woman from Los Angeles in 2012 is unlikely to share. The videos artfully square frustration with admiration, rationalising Shakespeare for a new age and a new audience.

The complete Condensed Shakespeare playlist

Links:
YouTube page for Macbeth
Condensed Shakespeare playlist
The Geeky Blonde website

Aaron the Moor

Date: 2015
Posted by: John Frazier
Cast: John Nyrere Frazier (Aaron)
Credits: None
Duration: 2.09

There many renditions of Aaron speech “Indeed, I was their tutor to instruct them” from Titus Andronicus (Act 5 Scene 1), most, though not all, performed by black actors. This is a stand-out example for me. Looming out utter blackness, his face gradually becoming visible yet never wholly so, the unrepentant Aaron confesses to his bloody deeds with as much anger as relish. He continues the speech with Lucius’s reply, “Art thou not sorry for these heinous deeds?”, ending with an emphatic “Ay, that I had not done a thousand more”. A portentous electronic organ makes for an effective musical background, while the performance begins with the sound of dripping water, suggesting imprisonment.

In or out of the context of Shakespeare’s play (in which Aaron is a grotesque murderer, who will be buried up to his chest and left to starve for his crimes), this comes over as a declaration of vengeance, more particularly the relish in the power that vengeance gives. The implication is that it is the vengeance of blackness against a white world. We are as much in the world of Toussaint l’Ouverture as Titus. The words are powerfully spoken, and though the performance by John Frazier might be too ripe in other circumstances, here it is fitting to its setting. A memorable two minutes.

Links: YouTube page

Everything You Need To Know About The Tempest

Date: 2015
Posted by: Emma Banks
Cast: Emma Banks, Katie Douglass (voices)
Credits: Emma Banks (produced by, directed by, casting, credits, music)
Duration: 7.00 (including 1.20 of bank screen at the end)

Of all the many sub-genres of Shakespearean videos to be found on YouTube, among the most prevalent and popular are plot summaries. These are of two kinds: some make fun of the plays by cramming as much of the story as possible into a short space of time, usually a minute. Others have a more practical bent, which is to explain what is going on to the bewildered. Clearly there are quite a few young students turning to YouTube for some sort of clear guide to who is who and who does what to whom. It’s Lamb’s Tales for the 21st century.

Here’s a typical example, with an inviting title. Shakespeare’s narrative is explained through a series of crude cut-out figures placed over generic picture backgrounds., accompanied by some text and commentary. It does its job well enough, leavening the the practical business of explanation with some world-weary asides and some fun choices of cut-outs – Gollum as Caliban, in particular. Of course, it doesn’t tell you anything about what The Tempest signifies – but that’s another story.

Links: YouTube page

Ophelia drowns

Date: 2011 (2007)
Posted by: Amy L.
Cast: Amy L. (Ophelia)
Credits: Music: Beethoven’s Piano Sonata no. 14
Duration: 6.10

Here’s a particularly strong example of the many Ophelia fan videos to be found on YouTube. That feels the best way to describe them: videos that recreate Ophelia’s death by drowning that appeals to filmmakers/performers who want to emulate her by imitation. In this example a young girl in a white dress wanders through a wooded landscape (in Northern Ontario), following the path of a river. Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight’ sonata plays. Gertrude’s lines about Ophelia’s last minutes are spoken over the images, as we see Ophelia stumble, cling for a while to a rock, then slip into the water and drown.

The video is interesting for exemplifying a romantic conception of Ophelia, one with which some identify quite intensely. It also interesting for its literalism. It doesn’t just show us the drowned Ophelia; it tries to show us how she drowned. In doing so it teeters on the edge of the absurd, but to judge from the comments that accompany the video some have found its visual exposition useful. The amateur status of the video, with its faltering technique, makes the Ophelia’s tumbling into a stream close to ridiculous, while at the same time convincing many in its audience through its sincerity. As one comment puts it, “That creek is BEAUTIFUL. I’d drown there. I mean, if I were to drown, that’s not a bad place to be.” The video exemplifies Ophelia as death wish – not something to be indulged in, but as a satisfying fantasy.

The video is dated as 2011, but it appears originally to have been published in 2007 with an introduction by the filmmaker/performer that has been removed from this version and is no longer available on YouTube.

Links: YouTube page

Twelfth Grade (or whatever)

Date: 2016
Posted by: Liv Belcik, S Messing and S-messing Around!
Cast: Sarah Taylor (Viola/Sam Messing), Kristen Vaganos (Liv Belcik), Julian Hermano (Oren Douglas), Derya Celikkol (Tammi Belcik), Jon Steiger (Drew Aguecheek), Adriana Figeuroa (Maria Waites), Evan Neiden (Malcolm Volinsky), Andres Cordoba (Vic Caius), Justin Linville (Curt Slender), Eliot Barnhart (Sebastian Messing)
Credits: Quip Modest Productions. Jules Pigott (head writer/director/editor), Uma Dwivedi, Angela Farooq, Sarah Goodwin, Lee Hittner-Cunningham, Daisy Murphy and Julia Reinstein (developers), Simona Riccardi and Shannen Michaelson (assistant directors)
Duration: Ongoing

This is excellent. Right from the start of the opening episode, in which a kazoo-playing Oren tells us of his favourite bands, then confesses to his room mates that he is utterly in love, one senses a confident directorial hand and a witty retelling of Twelfth Night. Shakespeare’s own opening has been simulataneously acknowledged, parodied and used as the steeping stone to an original conception.

So, yes, it’s another another web series designed for those who “like Shakespeare and awkward teenagers” (as writer-director Jules Pigott pithily puts it). The set-up is familiar: students using vlogs to share their thoughts with the online audience, with multiple viewpoints achieved through different YouTube accounts in the names of the characters, social media spin-offs and so on. There’s a plot-line that riffs on Shakespeare, so that Oren = Orlando, Sam/Viola = Viola, Liv = Olivia, Malcolm = Malvolio, Drew = Andrew Aguecheek, and so on. The main business involves Viola disguising herself in an all-boys’ school and falling with love with jock Oren, with a range of secondary characters, some with Shakespearean roots, some invented, who flesh out and enrich the narrative. The twists and turns of young love are credible enough, the contrivances (such as characters using other people’s cameras to post vlogs) no worse than Shakespeare was guilty of, and the characters’ frankness combined with naivety is of our age.

What makes this series stand out is the style. The need for the characters to confess to cameras (usually, though not always, in their bedrooms) both constrains and defines such productions, but the production takes every opportunity to play imaginative variations on the theme. So we get musical interludes, conversations held while all we see is a video game being played by the speakers, intercutting between different people’s vlogs, characters answering viewers’ questions, even one episode that takes place completely in the dark. Even the eye-catching variety of their titles pleases (Manic Pixie Dream Girl, Representation of the Ego in Media, Unreliable Narrator, Oren Plays Kazoo for Five Minutes). There is also a satisfying narrative arc, showing as much control over the series as a whole as its individual elements. The performances from the young cast are uniformly good, with lightness and darkness of tone equally well handled.

Twelfth Grade (or whatever) is written, edited and directed by New Yorker Jules Pigott, who engagingly and illuminatingly and rapidly explains how the series is made in the above video. One sees the huge dedication involved, from preparing the scripts, to co-ordinating the performers, to editing and uploading the videos, to keep the social media streams going. And all this for around 1,000 views per episode. That suggests that this is not being done simply for the likes, tweets or followed, but because those involved believe in what they are doing. It’s what separates art from mere opportunity.

This is the second Shakespeare series from Quip Modest productions – the first, Like, As It Is (based on As You Like It), I have yet to see, though apparently it is an apprentice work. Twelfth Grade (or whatever) shows how Shakespeare functions as a stimulus to the imagination, letting ideas fly. It has enough of a debt to Shakespeare’s play to cause smiles of recognition, but it is never weighed down by the association. It has its own special story to tell.

Links:
Complete episode list
Quip Modest Productions tumblr site
Twelfth Grade (or whatever) on Twitter
Jules Pigott’s personal site

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