By Mark Squibb | May 6, 2021
COVID-19 may have shut down large-scale theatre productions, but a Cupid’s-based theatre company has found a way to bring snippets of the Bard to audiences across the province — and the world.
Each week, Perchance Theatre will release a short, smartly produced video of a local artist reciting a monologue from the Shakespeare canon in a locale reflecting the theme or scope of the speech. A monologue is a long speech by one actor in a play, which often reveals deeper insights into a character’s motives or actions. Famous monologues include Hamlet’s lament on death as he holds the jester Yorick’s skull, and Mark Anthony begging friends, Romans, and countrymen to lend him their ears as he buries Caesar.
The project has been titled The Power of One.
“When Shakespeare was writing, he was wiring for people of all walks of life,” said Danielle Irvine, artistic director of Perchance Theatre. “And the reason why his work is considered timeless is because it really delves into the deep experiences of being human — jealously, love, anger, envy, joy. And so the works he wrote still resonate today.”
The videos, filmed entirely outdoors (as Shakespeare’s players would also have been performed, as the Globe was an open roofed theatre), range from three to five minutes, and feature many familiar faces and places.
One features Erika Squires as she performs a monologue from The Two Noble Kinsman along Manuel’s River, while another sees John Sheehan perform a scene from Much Ado About Nothing at the Tea Garden in Holyrood. Another still has Alan Doyle performing a wartime monologue from Henry V from atop the Red Cliff Radar Station.
“We’re celebrating the power of Shakespeare’s words, and the beauty of our province, and the talent of our performers,” explained Irvine.
Some of the monologues, while staying faithful to the text, have been modernized or filtered through a Newfoundland lens.
Irvine said it’s a new way for people to look at both the province and the words of Shakespeare.
“The feedback we’ve gotten from Power of One is, ‘Oh my God, I understand Shakespeare,’” said Irvine, who noted that while many people’s first experience with Shakespeare is reading the plays in high school, Shakespeare himself never intended the plays to be read, but to be experienced live.
“I’ll say to my students, would you rather I showed you the movie The Avengers, or I gave you the script to read? Which one do you think you would enjoy more?” said Irvine, who’s currently teaching at the National Theatre School of Canada in Montreal, by way of comparison.
The project, which was launched this spring, has been more successful than initially anticipated.
“I was picturing that we would be pretty much keeping the Perchance Company in the minds of our audience over the shutdown and into the season to come,” said Irvine. “I was picturing maybe 200 to 300 views per monologue. The first monologue we hit 30,000.”
Since then, the videos have been averaging between 15,000 to 50,000 views per monologue from audiences all over the world.
As to when folks might expect to see live performances at the Cupids venue, that depends on COVID-19 restrictions.
“Everything we do teeters on what our capacities are going to be and what our costs are going to be,” said Irvine. “We’ve got five plans ready to hit ‘go’ on once we know for sure what Dr. (Janice) Fitzgerald feels is the safest thing for our industry… We want to do what’s safe, but still celebrates our strengths as artists and employs as many people as we can in this crazy time.”
Things that have to be considered, said Irvine, are audience capacities, and costs of extra cleaning and sanitization.
The dilemma facing theatre companies that have had to close during the pandemic is not new. In fact, Shakespeare himself would have been shut out of the theatres when a plague shut down all playhouses in London in 1592. During that time when the stages were closed, the Bard wrote poetry instead.
When asked what sort of play Shakespeare might write about the COVID-19 pandemic were he alive and well today, Irvine said he probably wouldn’t have written much about COVID, as he did not write about the plagues of his own day.
“He was alive and writing during the plague, and he almost never mentions it in his work,” said Irvine. “I think Shakespeare would write something insightful, but joyful, to try and celebrate making it through such a dark time.”
She said its likely that folks hearing about the plague non-stop in 1592 might not like to have seen a plague production once theatres opened again, and she believes the same holds true for today.
“We go to the theatre to reflect upon our lives as they are — but also to get away from our lives as they are,” said Irvine.
Meanwhile, there are still about 10 of the monologues left to be unveiled over the coming months, and the company has been busy doing professional development over Zoom calls, which they hope to continue into the future.
Coincidentally, the end of April marks two important dates in Shakespeare’s life — his baptism on April 26, 1564, and his death on April 23, 1616.