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

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

macbeth ➳ he shall never vanquish’d be

Date: 2015
Posted by: lana cho
Cast: Matt Budoff (Macbeth), Carla Carvallo (Witch 2), Lano Cho (Hecate + Apparition 2), Guy Gideoni (Lennox + Banquo’s Ghost), Siddhant Jain (Apparition 3), Emily Kravnak (Apparition 1), Serena Lantz (Witch 1), Chloe Lee (Witch 3)
Credits: Production company: The Very Large Acting Co. Editor: Lana Cho; make-up artists: Aditi Bhatt, Danielle Mullins; cinematography: Siddhant Jain; coloring: kindon18; composer: Michael Suby (Vampire Diaries score)
Duration: 6.33

Here is Macbeth from the Twilight generation. A group of young Americans re-enact Macbeth meeting the witches and seeing the apparitions (from Act 4 Scene 1) in a ferny wood, with the help of dark make-up, drained colouring effects (highlighting the red of Macbeth’s kilt), distorted voices, a widescreen image and a heavy overlaying of the music from The Vampire Diaries. Though the acting tends towards the wooden, good use of made of the setting and the opportunity for different camera angles. Chiefly it brings out the modern Gothic in Shakespeare and shows how the plays survive because they can be re-imagined to the temper of the times.

Links:
YouTube page

Infinite Monkey Syndrome

Date: 2012
Posted by: James R. Ford
Cast: Not given
Credits: Produced by James R. Ford
Duration: 1.30

A few months ago it was reported that US programmer Jesse Anderson had set up a virtual set of some millions of monkeys (using Hadoop), all of them tying at random on virtual typewriters, and had managed produce something that was 99.99% Shakespeare – the first text to be achieved in this way being ‘A Lover’s Complaint’. Anderson had cut corners however, because every time the random typing came up with words that roughly matched something from the Shakespeare canon then they would be retained, if not then discarded. With this and other constraints, Anderson could achieve his goal. The purely random production of Shakespeare by an infinite number of monkeys remains something for the philosophers and theoretical mathematicians.

Or for a videomaker. This droll piece, made by British artist James R. Ford, is an extract from a 9 minutes 8 second loop (therefore designed in principle to run forever). It shows us a woman in a monkey suit, typing Shakespeare, as the tags to the video tell us, because otherwise we would not know (a photograph of the typewriter on the artist’s website indicates that only gibberish has been produced – so far). Is is a Shakespeare video? I say that it is – and so it is (and just to make the point this post has been tagged with all of the plays and poems). A video to watch, infinitely.

Jesse Anderson explains more about his project on this video:

Links:
YouTube page
BBC online news item on Jesse Anderson’s project
Jesse Anderson’s Million Monkeys Project
James R. Ford’s personal website

Shakespeare Shortz

Date: 2009
Posted by: citizenstheatre
Cast: Staff of the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Credits: not given
Duration: 2.56

Shakespeare Shortz was a competition launched by the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, in 2009, inviting anyone to contribute a video of them reciting their favourite lines from Shakespeare in under two minutes. The winners won tickets to the theatre’s production of Othello. The video above illustrates what they were looking for, with various staff members of the theatre delivering their lines with affection, like a deeply-held passion at last brought forth. The competition is over now, though submissions are still invited just for fun, and in a way it’s similar to what BardBox is aiming to do – documenting, storing and redistributing a new form of Shakespearean production whose strength lies in its community.

The sixteen responses to the video can be found on YouTube here or on the Citizens Theatre’s own site, here. The two winners were Max Does Shakespeare by yobkulcha (yet another example of children reciting words beyond their understanding):

and Calum MacAskill Porter by SkinheadNinja, a particularly clever piece of elementary animation, which merits far more YouTube views than it has received so far:

All in all, this was a good idea that should have had far wider distribution. If only the RSC or the National had come up with it – then Shakespeare and online video might have started to gain the attention it undoubtedly deserves.

Links:
YouTube page
Responses to the competition on YouTube
Citizens Theatre Shakespeare Shortz site

Shakespeare Shakedown

Date: 2007
Posted by: justjill
Cast: Not given
Credits: Produced by Patrik Fleming and Jill Blum
Duration: 6.63

An enjoyable skit from a Shakespeare class at the University of Baltimore, in which Gladys and Lorraine gossip about Ophelia and Gertude, the Macbeths’ marital disharmony and the three witches’ skin care problems, and King Lear, interspersed with advertisements for the King Lear Guide to Retirement Planning and Rid-a-Kin, the ideal poison for troublesome relatives. Some audio problems along the way, but bitchy fun.

Links:
YouTube page
Internet Archive page