With audiences barred from formal performance spaces in the era of the pandemic, actors and performers across the globe have had to truly embrace the adage that all the world’s a stage.
West Vancouver actor Matthew Rhodes received a crash course in this very concept after discovering a group of thespians in the U.K. had started an international project to virtually perform the complete works of Shakespeare during the novel coronavirus lockdown.
“They were going to do every single Shakespeare play and they were looking for more actors, and so I was like – that’s fascinating!” says Rhodes.
Just like everyone who’s brave enough to offer glimpses of the human condition under the bright lights of the stage, all of Rhodes’ various acting and directing projects dried up as soon COVID-19 hit Vancouver back in March, he explains.
Excited by the artistic possibilities presented by virtual theatre, he applied for both acting and producing roles as soon as he learned about The Show Must Go Online, which involves weekly performed readings of the Bard’s complete works from a global cast.
“I love theatre and I wanted to learn more about producing – and I love Shakespeare. I wanted to do anything that I could to help,” says Rhodes. “I think the project had gotten a bit bigger than when they first imagined it, which was exciting.”
The project kicked off with a Zoom performance of The Two Gentlemen Of Verona on March 19, with actors from across the world live-streaming their performances from the comfort and safety of home.
Since then, the constantly rotating troupe has performed 21 of Shakespeare’s plays and more than 300 actors from six continents – from cities such as Cincinnati to Seoul – have participated, with plans to wrap up the final production in November, according to Rhodes.
“There’s tons of amazing talent that I never would have gotten to see because they all do theatre in other places,” he says.
All shows are performed on Zoom and streamed live to audiences around the world on YouTube, where the shows are also being archived for others to watch later. Audiences are encouraged to use the live chat function to exchange insights and reactions during the show.
In addition to his producer role, which has included helping manage the virtual “backstage” and casting, Rhodes has also acted in the virtual versions of Julius Caesar and Titus Andronicus.
Shows stream online every Wednesday at 7 p.m. BST and will remain online for free afterwards. Next up is Hamlet, streaming on Aug. 12, and Twelfth Night on Aug. 19. The performances will wrap up with a virtual production of Henry VIII on Nov. 18.
Despite the challenges presented by the ongoing pandemic, Rhodes says he’s appreciated how The Show Must Go Online has shown him how theatre is such an adaptable art form.
“You don’t have to watch them live, but if you choose to you’re watching a live performance with a live audience. And just having that feeling again, in lockdown, has meant so much to me, and I think it has meant so much to our audience,” he says. “Shakespeare is for everyone. The theatre is a very dynamic form.”
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