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THEATRE: Shakespeare by the Sea moves from stage to screen


There’s no stopping the Bard — his work is going virtual this 2020 season

Special to The Telegram

The annual Shakespeare by the Sea Theatre Festival launches this week, with the productions taking place in the virtual realm, instead of on the stage.

Typically taking place in parks and outdoor amphitheatres, Shakespeare by the Sea has presented more than 50 Shakespearean productions over the course of 28 seasons.

This year, the troupe is putting one mainstage show, “Pericles, Prince of Tyre,” directed by Paul Rowe, as well as “Shakespeare Shorts,” with more than 40 actors involved.

“It’s been an ambition of mine as artistic director to direct the lesser-known works in the canon,” Rowe said.

The artistic director is definitely ambitious — this year, Shakespeare by the Sea issued an invitation to all company members to put forward scenes they’d like to perform from Shakespeare’s vast catalogue, to be performed either live through Zoom or pre-recorded to be posted online.

It’s not just the execution of the performances that differs this year — due to the ongoing pandemic and social distancing, planning the 2020 festival was more complicated.



“Of course, the work has been different than you’d normally expect. There’s been a large call for technical expertise. We had to offer company members technical assistance and provide green screens to keep their digital backgrounds stable. A lot of deliveries of costumes, props and the like have been made around the city,” Rowe explained.

“For me, directing in a two-dimensional space was new. It’s been a steep learning curve for all of us” he added.

“I’m not tech-savvy at all, but I’ve become quite adept at managing Zoom calls,” he joked.

“On the production side, we did both our hiring and auditions online. We hired six people through the Canada Students Jobs program to work on the two productions” — two stage managers, a production assistant for each show, a production assistant for the company as a whole, plus a costume designer.

With the festival taking place digitally, Rowe is working with a slew of people that he has never even met.


“We forged ahead because we also wanted to provide employment, maintain our untarnished record of consecutive festival seasons, and combat the social ills of isolation and boredom." — Paul Rowe  


“Everything in the season is online. “Pericles,” in particular, with a company of 26 actors, was rehearsed and produced completely online. The final production, complete with costumes (for the upper body only), sound effects and digital backgrounds will be posted for viewing online beginning on Friday, Aug. 7,” he said.

“Some of the ‘Shakespeare Shorts’ were performed live, recorded in parks and backyards by people who shared a bubble or who waited until a small team could do the work in a safe, socially distanced setting. The main impetus for going online was safety during the pandemic,” Rowe explained.

“We forged ahead because we also wanted to provide employment, maintain our untarnished record of consecutive festival seasons, and combat the social ills of isolation and boredom during a difficult time for people. I know the acting company and the production team really appreciated the work and I’m confident our audiences will appreciate our efforts, as well.”

While the company and its members will miss the “personal connection and energy that can be generated between performers in a live setting,” Rowe is excited to expand the viewer base.

“We have people in the company this year from Vancouver, Halifax, Mississauga and New Hampshire. They’re mostly people who have a connection to Newfoundland (Fionn Shea from New Hampshire, for example, just graduated from Memorial University), so they were aware of us and wanted to share in the work. Also, the fact that the major theatre companies around the country — including here in Newfoundland — are closed this season sent a few really talented people our way. Our costume designer, Alison Helmer, is a recent graduate of the National Theatre School and flew here from Winnipeg to work with us. “Pericles” is set in the ancient Mediterranean — wait until you see the results of her amazing work!”

Theatre lovers can view Helmer’s work — plus all of the great efforts of Rowe and his team — online though the Shakespeare by the Sea website, social media pages and YouTube channel.

“Tune in,” Rowe said.

“You won’t be disappointed!”

Visit www.shakespearebytheseafestival.com or “like” www.facebook.com/shakespearebythesea for full festival details + schedule.


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