Liberate the Poet!

In the end, a Shakespeare-related `online theatre` experience that is worth recounting, comes this way. And an artist of substance was needed to shift this new phenomenon into a measure of careful thinking as well as performance. With the Zoom version of his I, Cinna (The Poet) `under the direction` of Naomi Wirthner for Unicorn Theatre, Tim Crouch comes to explore this new `district` with intensity, grace, and — fatefully, poetic sensitivity.

Finally, not a crowded screen where `unthought` actions and untameable words squeeze the wish of connecting in times of isolation into an antsy sequence of noises landing into boredom. Crouch’s choice is simple because it is thought: the encounter happens on `stage` — webinar mode, precisely as in a `normal` theatre. The broad vision, not just an `undirected` focus on his face, betray a study on how to play the role of actor into long and short plans. Also, it does not forget `scenic` props: a desk, a laptop — perpetual connection with the outside world, a sealed room, a coat, a kettle, a smartphone. Especially, though, a pen and paper.

Right, because at the heart of this `play` are the words. It is possible to access the `theatre room` about half an hour before, and you will see him struggling with an empty log where words just cannot stick. Help is required from an audience. And the audience comes. First of all he reads all the names of the `attendees`, — mine included, and explains how the connection with the virtual `fourth wall` will be established, way up until the moment that — at the end only, and this is not a minor detail, those present will be turned into `participants`. This being the moment he likes the most.

This `script` — fifth in the I, Shakespeare series, including I, Malvolio, I, Banquo, I, Caliban, I, Peaseblossom, formerly composed for Jude Owusu in a 2012 RSC production, takes out from Julius Caesar a minor character with an inauspicious fate. Already revived by Crouch himself as an actor last February, Justin Audibert, artistic director of the London theatre still producing it, ended up convincing him to set up this new version.

Conceived for a solo performer, this brilliant text offers Crouch the chance to stand out for narrative mastery and dialogic capability, especially with the youngest in the `virtual audience`. It is to them, as a matter of fact, that he asks primarily to raise the `virtual hand` and interact — in a few, essential moments, via Q&A. This one is a reflection on life, its specific `gravity`, in-between two deaths: the one of the `dictator`, — literally he who dictates the words, bearer of a crown of king in the bosom of a republic which cannot take off (neither then, nor now, nor anywhere) and the one of the wrong Cinna, not the conspirator, but the poet. Killed not once but twice: in the flesh and in his property of thinker of the beautiful and the just. His words suffocated by a crowd calling him `out` because he cannot and does not want to `live in brackets`. An almost unbelievable echo of the current events which arguably could be of help to the intensity of the final product.

All, in this `theatrical interaction` Crouch sets up, aims to activating — thus keeping Cinna (both the real one, and the symbolic one) alive, the poetic capability inhabiting each and every one of us. Some sort of `poetising`, so to speak, generating a `philosophising` in the simplest of manners. He builds the latter up from the smallest of words — those which are `slaves` to other words, moves ahead to the words which exist already, — `substance words` or things, carries on to the words which `give meanings` to other words, — adjectives, up to the words which did not exist until we gave them a name — abstract concepts.

It is into this `republic` of words that the `conceptualisation` actually begins. `What would you die for? What would you kill for?`. These are the questions entrusted to the audience, giving them time to reflect and share. Especially the youngest. The cast Crouch’s `theatrising` is made from stands precisely into the closeness to the people attending, and this paradoxical contingency makes that happen here in an even more pertinent manner despite the real distance.

Some documentary `interludes`, — images of social turmoils forwarning the fall of the `king`, formerly conceived for the backdrop in a real theatre, become here part of the `narrative performance`, contributing to giving breath to this `live video`. Undoubtedly are to be blessed the gods of internet for having been so benevolent in the course of this particular encore, and having prevented from any `bad connection` to occur. The news about Caesar’s death comes on TV after the reflections on life and its specific `gravity`, and it cannot but revolutionise Cinna’s unnatural claustrophobic present, his own poet’s vocational property calling him to go out into the world in order to `poetise`, as there cannot be poetry without exiting.

Have you ever felt like that? Like brackets. 
(I’m in brackets to real life.) 
Do you understand? Brackets

This is how he embraces his destiny of death by cause of homonymy. It will be the audience’s duty to honour his act, — by means of the `reflected words` and the just manifested action, with an intimate yet communal poem to be composed along a five minutes silence bringing all those present close, even though far away and invisible to one another. Valediction and gratitude come from Cinna’s `ghost`. Thereafter, `curtain`. The most touching moment for us is the one Crouch himself likes the most. The brief one when lights are back on the `room`, out of the webinar mode, to shift gracefully, just for a few, gracious minutes, in the meeting mode.

Smiling, waving to each other, recognising each other, all seems to be a mutual gift that each participant delivers — indeed, as a `statement of presence`, before getting back, all of us, into our own republic.

Seen online on July 14 2020

Shakespeare at home

The formula of `creative resistance` in times of isolation

Kindred spirits cannot but call one another. Reached via Messenger by a note about this clever and poetic project, I began to follow, image after image, video after video, the evolution of HOMEShakes — The tragic world of daily gestures and deeds. Not just Shakespeare, drew me, but a creative instinct `by means of Shakespeare` as a coping mechanism, in times of isolation.

A YouTube channel and an Instagram profile come alive day after day aiming to cover the whole canon. Authors are Zoe Pernici — graduated at the `Paolo Grassi`, touring with Scimone-Sframeli when the emergency shut down theatres, and Francesco Scarel — scientist, a Phd in Nanotechnology, video maker with an interest for science communication via artistic media.

Welcome Zoe. How did the idea come up? Do you remember the precise moment? 

It was March. Me and Francesco decided to spend the long lockdown period together. And we both felt, at some point, that basic everyday actions, such as cleaning, cooking, washing hands were about to taking over a new value. We can easily say the idea came up in the bathroom. I had never washed my hands as often as in that period, when right there, in front of the mirror over the sink, I thought of Lady Macbeth.

Then I recalled Shakespeare: The Animated Tales, the series from the Russian animation studio Soyuzmultfilm. As a child it literally fascinated me. So, watching this jewel again with Francesco, we started processing the idea. I went back to the Shakespearean page, and all of a sudden I felt the need to get in touch with colleagues and friends for sharing it. All of them reopened their `Shakespeare cupboard`, and went back to reading. Francesco is a professional `experimenter` and immediately came on board with his passion for the audiovisual language. 

What does Shakespeare mean to you?

Definitely the author mostly deepened in the years of the academy and beyond. Not just that, though. He strikes me all the times for his relevance. The more I read of him, the more I realize I do not know enough of him. Shakespeare is like an iceberg! I am happy that childhood memory came back to the surface.

What is your creative process? How do you work?

We look for a monologue or a dialogue we find interesting to us and we propose it to an actress or an actor we have pinpointed beforehand. In the meantime we look around, as in: in our home. We look for objects, spaces, gestures pointing the way towards Shakespeare’s words. We work by consonance, metaphors, association of ideas. And irony is the keystone this `tale in images` is founded upon. After that we shoot, cut, insert the audio on the background, refining everything along the line. The whole happening into a home made studio which is actually growing on itself.  

How do you `recruit` the voices?

At the very beginning I proposed the idea to four friends and colleagues of mine, and little by little the interest in the project grew and some other `voices` were added, of people I had never known or worked with before, actresses and actors I had never met personally, but always appreciated artistically. We talk about the fragment in question, they record it — sometimes with very basic means, such as a smartphone, and they sent it to us. So far we have 42 actors engaged in the project, all of them are Italian, but we have already touched base with `voices` from abroad. We would like HOMEShakes to speak other languages! 

`HOMEShakes is neither theatre nor cinema`. Video-art? `Theatre-graphics`?

Your definition is correct. Beyond definitions, though, the most important theme is what I write after that: `It is a form of experimentation to keep on creating, together. It is a way of living the words of the great playwright now, in this very moment, with all of the gravity, and irony, in case`. The expressive moments being born in Shakespeare are universal, and for this reason `intercepting` our everyday deeds. Our quest leans towards these everyday moments, in the attempt of bringing his great words to a wide public. 

What will the next steps be?

Necessarily our next step will be a crowdfunding campaign: we want to repay both all the artists who participated, and will participate in the project, and our own work, and also to have enough funds to develop HOMEShakes further. We are also trying to understand how to bring the project into schools, and if ours might be, as an audiovisual language, a mean capable of having kids approach Shakespeare. Furthermore — in a wider perspective perhaps interweaving with video art, we are thinking of an installation collecting all the `shorts`. 

Thank you. I know you care much about naming them all. Would you like to list all of the HOMEShakes voices so far? 

Yes. They are: Orietta Notari, Ariella Reggio, Federica Fracassi, Andrea Di Casa, Marcela Serli, Elena Russo Arman, Alice Giroldini, Marco Oscar Maccieri, Paola Giannini, Cristina Cappelli, Chiara Tomei, Viola Lucio, Serena Ferraiuolo, Dalila Reas, Riccardo Dal Toso, Miriam Russo, Matteo Ciccioli, Anna Cappellari, Nathan Boch, Mariasilvia Greco, Bruno Ricci, Marta Chiara Amabile, Emanuele Turetta, Federica Garavaglia, Mauro Milone, Andrea Delfino, Francesco Natoli, Giuseppe Scoditti, Luca Mammoli, Michelangelo Maria Zanghì, Luigi Feroleto, Federica Ombrato, Alessandro Bay Rossi, Enza De Rose, Sara Alzetta, Valentino Pagliei, Marco Palazzoni, Giulia Mancini, Rossella Fava, Giulio Cancelli, Ludovico Fededegni, Daniele Tenze.

The micro-video `animating` this post has been realized specifically for this `chat`.

The same gracious and devotional aesthetics lives not only in the video episodes, where you will find new characters such as DesdeMoka, ArielGel, KingClear, and others, but also in the magical `gallery` of the people behind the voices portraits, the latter to be found clicking on the second link above.  

Click here to set the image in motion!