One of the hardest parts about this global pandemic, for me at least, is the lack of live performance. Performances are being postponed or cancelled, festivals have had to lay off their employees, some have had to cancel their whole season altogether! It’s a very trying time for everyone, and while the value of the arts is being recognized now more than ever, it’s also promoting artists to get creative. Live streams, and Cameo messages, and reading books aloud online have become part of our everyday life now, and we’re all thankful for it! Enter the Stratford Pirate Transmission: Stratford Festival actors coming together (virtually of course) to still provide Shakespeare fans like me with live performances from the comfort of our couches!
When I first saw on the Stratford Festival Instagram that this was happening, I knew I had to tune in! I’ve been so desperately missing the rehearsal posts and preview photos that usually abound this time of year. I was overjoyed that there was now a way for not only us patrons to enjoy the magic of theatre, but also an outlet for these performers to continue to express themselves despite not being able to do so in their usual fashion.
The cast consisted of Festival favourites old and new: Michael Blake, Jakob Ehman, Danny Ghantous, Josue Laboucane, Alexandra Lainfiesta, Hillary McCormack, Andre Morin, Irene Poole, E.B. Smith, Michael Spencer-Davis, and Amaka Umen. All of these phenomenal actors should have been preparing for the 2020 Season at Stratford (which would have had its opening night today), but instead prepared for this wonderful online performance of one of Shakespeare’s most endearing comedies. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is just one of those plays that you can’t help but love; the magic, mistaken identities, love triangles, and hilarious subplot make for a truly joyous piece of theatre. These wonderful actors brought Midsummer to life in a unique and wonderful way, their talent glowing through the computer screen! It felt like home, hearing those familiar voices and watching such amazing actors perform as if we were all right in the room with them.
I’ve seen Midsummer at the festival a few times, so to get to see it on a totally new platform was great fun! The cast was all on a Zoom call, along with Musical Director Adam Campbell and Production Coordinator Hillary Nichol. They used different backgrounds to indicate the scene changes, had props at home to help with scenes that required them, Josue even used puppets so that he could play the majority of the Rude Mechanicals! I loved watching them “pass” flowers to one another or see cake spatulas or BBQ tongs used as swords. It made me laugh out loud, but then also made me appreciate the lengths they had gone to to ensure that the story could be told as fully as possible. Adam Campbell had an impressive number of percussion instruments by which he could indicate the scene changes and help add a little extra magic to the scenes.
But as I think we’ve all been finding out lately, technology isn’t always the most reliable! At one point, Demetrius’ mic just completely cut out, although the other actors made it absolutely hilarious! There were various background changes that were slightly amiss or the backgrounds covered the actors instead of being behind them! It made for a good laugh, and a reminder that live theatre is never easy; whether it’s onstage or online, things can always go a little sideways, but the show must go on!
I am beyond thankful to the Shakespeare Pirate Transmission for producing this event. While it was their 4th installment to date, I hope there will be many more to help fill out these times of quarantine. For me, it made me feel like myself again; hearing the language and watching such fantastic performers filled my heart like few things have been able to as of late. While it was definitely the most dressed-down I’ve ever been to watch a play, I enjoyed it just as much as if I was in the Festival Theatre with them all.
Thanks, thanks and ever thanks!
If you missed the live transmission but would still like to watch the broadcast, you can find it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=YB_xw6elWhU&fbclid=IwAR2AD5FFIPQnpsViGQzZH9cHS2ojC0_0V-qgR14-YsfwmCtXTDbGqzgTSgM&app=desktop