By Kristy Koehler, July 16 2020—
“O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo? Unmute thy Zoom microphone, so I may hear you.”
This year, everything is happening online — even Shakespeare.
With the COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings continuing through the summer, Theatre Calgary was unable to present their annual summer tradition Shakespeare by the Bow on Prince’s Island Park. Rather than put an end to the 32-year tradition, however, they reimagined it, presenting Romeo and Juliet online, in association with The Shakespeare Company and Hit + Myth Productions.
And, while many aspects of online platforms may seem antithetical to live theatre, director Haysam Kadri embraced the challenge. He says audiences are finding the performances refreshing.
“If you’ve spent any time on Zoom, you know it’s really hard to engage after the first 20 minutes, especially if you’ve been in a meeting and been seeing the same static picture — it’s quite taxing,” he says. “If you’ve had a two-hour Zoom meeting it’s like an eight-hour day — it’s exhausting in a lot of ways because it’s a different way of communicating and processing information and connecting with people. We’re not used to it. But, we’ve managed to find a very dynamic way to tell a story on a very static platform.”
The show isn’t pre-recorded, it’s still performed live on each night of the run.
“Actors are in their respective homes either in Calgary or Edmonton and they’re performing simultaneously live at the same time as if they’re in the same room,” says Kadri. “It’s quite an interesting process and an interesting challenge — just like live theatre, anything can happen in this particular medium.”
And anything has indeed happened with actors forgetting to unmute their mics and WiFi cutting out, in addition to some mismatched scenery.
“It was raining in Edmonton and sunny in Calgary and [the actors] were supposed to be in the same outdoor setting,” laughed Kadri. “It’s definitely fun and part of the charm is that anything can happen. We wanted to simulate what it would be like if we were doing a live performance.”
Kadri says it was important to do the show live, rather than pre-recording it.
“That’s cheating our performers of a proper process and ability to discover new things with the characters and the play and to try new things,” he says. “That’s an important part of this process — allowing the actors to really develop and find new things in the character as you would in a normal two-, three- or four-week performance.”
While the actors can’t get a feel for a live audience or receive instant feedback, Kadri says they’re looking at the positives of the show being online. Watchers from overseas and across borders have logged on to enjoy the show.
“We’re finding that it is more accessible to people in a way because we’re able to broadcast to a larger span of people that might not be in Calgary to watch the live performance or are in rural areas that might not be able to come to a show,” says Kadri.
He says it’s difficult to say whether or not the audience has been larger than the one that usually gathers in the park. Upwards of 300 people have tuned in, but Kadri notes that the number only indicates devices, not watchers. It doesn’t account for what may be a family of five gathered around one screen.
“We’d like to think that this is a very exciting way of telling a story,” says Kadri. “Its very accessible and we’ve embraced this whole environment that we’re in with COVID-19 and we’ve managed to find a thread — in fact the play has a very strong plague narrative in it and we’ve embraced that and used it as our inspiration for setting it in the environment of COVID-19.”
While it may be disappointing that the outdoor tradition is off limits, for now, as the Theatre Calgary website says, “Home is where the Bard is.”
Romeo and Juliet is performed live and online every Wednesday and Saturday at 7:00 p.m until July 25. No tickets are required and viewing is free. Visit Theatre Calgary’s website for the viewing link.