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!

Monumental or not?

An unexplored territory — Anthony and Cleopatra. The chance given by an online `première` at the National Theatre At Home, re-proposing (in the midst of a `new British order of the theatre` witnessing a real Shakes-boom) hence comes overly welcome. The two stars — on stage for their debut end 2018 at the Oliver Theatre, are Ralph Fiennes, and Sophie Okonedo, under the direction of Simon Godwin.

Quite a crucial concept, the one of `star`, as on the boards of the most majestic theatre of the three hosted inside the unmistakable brutalist building, foremost the most famous performers in the British `entertainment industry` have been acting since its birth. A `cinematographic theatre`, — one might say, also somehow a `TV theatre`, given the consolidated, at this point, golden age of series.

Far from disappointing expectations, it is the movable mechanism designed by Hildegard Bechtler to `sustain` the unsustainable lack of Aristotelian unities, which, in this Shakespeare, is amplified between two opposite worlds the whole narrative structure is built upon. Egypt — symbol of a strange exoticism reaching up to licentiousness, and Rome — symbol of a strange version of a frozen, not yet republican, reasonableness.

The scenographic, and narrative movability, with the assistance of constant, musical intermissions, — hiding, whilst underlining, the sudden as much as embarrassing changes in space, tells the story of the two lovers in the most cinematographic possible way. A mood contemporary costumes are also of assistance for, in a super-technological idea of `war`, recalling the Gulf two, both in colors, and number of military `sequins`.

The first director’s choice is to get into the plot from the end. The lifeless body of the `gypsy` queen, whose lust transformed the valorous combatant into a `strumpet’s fool`. A transformation that has no fear to be seen from everyone, and by everyone to be judged. So here it is another cinema-related topic: Antony and Cleopatra, or it would be better to say Cleopatra and Antony, act the role of `celebrities`, as theirs is a `public` passion.

That is how we enter from the `E-gyptian` side of the dual movable world, into this monumental staging, wind and violins, with the couple playing around a pool as adolescents. They notice the audience — indeed, eyes on their play, and they begin to entertain them. Fiennes is absolutely perfect: no need to pass through rehearsal room, he seems to have landed straight from the set of A Bigger Splash, at least outfit wise.

The melancholic countenance of Okonedo, though, and a voice almost achingly sharp (but it is possibly the video), seems to be little apt to embody the humoral sensuality of the icon she has to perform. More than apt, however, for the most intimately lacerating moments — `Give me some music!`. The chemistry, all in all, is not a `movie` one. Nevertheless, we must not forget we are into a theatre, even if a `national` one, the latter imposing a compelling question.

Does a production of `Antony and Cleopatra` need to be monumental? Though not quite axiomatically as in a 1960s-bob-hair-scintillating-cobra-tiaras manner? Why not focus on less to find out more in the precious folds of the script? A question that might perhaps become a message in the bottle to be entrusted to the waves of a `Shakespearealist` movement currently living in social media at the time of lock down. Hopefully beyond that.

A question addressed to all those who have seen, or thought, in the past, and might imagine, in the future (because not lovers of this expansion of cinema into theatre, not even in times of need — as it is now), a minor version. Some different manner to cut out `pearls` from an extreme vastitude (even for the most inveterate bardolators), some adherence to the canon capable of `playing` with the canon, answering questions it consistently offers.

Pearls that here too are, of course, revealed (how couldn’t it be so?): Fiennes will remain memorable for the Bacchanal in the venter of what might be a nuclear submarine, as well as for the almost adolescent embarrassment opposite to Octavia (a brilliant Hannah Morrish), his true love ever present even if absent, — but it seems to be seeing her, as a shadow possessing him. A feverish `frenziness` willing to, but unable to, conjugate the two worlds. And the two bodies neither.

sophie_okonedo_in_antony_cleopatra-Photo by Johan Persson
© Johan Persson

Tea time with Shakespeare

Ladies and Gentlemen
Welcome to the Globe Theatre
Today I have the honour
To present to you
The major masterpiece
By William Shakespeare
Romeo and Juliet
Let the show begin!
Here come the Lord’s Chamberlain Men

On the other side of a little curtain, the great Elizabethan theatre stands: fanfares, drums, thunderous applauses are warning the performance is about to begin.

This is a huge red dot on Mary’s agenda, you know? Right so! She is Mr Charles Goodwin’s seamstress `jackie` of all trades, and — it was about time!, she, too, will wear a costume and enter the stage! Sure, her face will not be visible, she will only be allowed to assume the role of a silent friar. Hooded head to toes her `job` will be to settle a little tree in order for the audience to understand the set has shifted into a forest. That’s already a lot, though, isn’t it? Everyone knows women cannot act. Devil’s business! The Puritans are super-strict.

She is fine as so, though. On this side of Sir William Shakespeare’s great theatre she is the minor queen of a kingdom of imagination and `action` and a great deal must be done: stage dress, do hair, make up, for the greatest young actor ever seen under Queen Elizabeth’s `theatrical` reign; and tonight he will be interpreting the role of Juliet. Sure, quite a sad story this one, but Master Shakespeare, it’s known, he is unpredictable! As when he invented the story of the donkey, or the one of the skull. She has fun Mary — silly girl!, in her minor realm. She preserves of it the chaotic order, and can find anything in there: wigs, little shoes, trinkets, mannequins, swords, face powder. Even tea pot and cups!

She imagines having tea with the Queen herself — it is said it takes hours to make her white, that is to cover smallpox marks, and the greatest playwright of England, what now? — silly girl!, of the whole world. That’s right! She imagines an encounter for tea between Elizabeth and `Willy` — that is how Mr Goodwin calls him. Thus, all of a sudden, she is the one who becomes a playwright, and a doll maker too, of a couple of images at the core of a child-friendly Elizabethan theatre storytelling. Condensed information, superbly investigated yet essential, forever to be cherished — thanks to the power of narration, into the memory of small and big generations.

This is one adorable fresco, Shakespeare a merenda (2016), signed, directed, and interpreted by Elena Russo Arman, and splendidly portrayed in a gallery of tableaux vivants, complete with feather duster, sceptre of a minor queen who is much informed of all the folds registered in a history that lives itself in the art of theatre. Precise, yet creative, La Vie en Rose lives in her creativeness with the `mille capinere` song, and she accurately tells the truth about theatre as better one couldn’t: `A magnificent fiction exhibiting a reality truer than truth, whilst the effects on the audience are surprising`. This is the beauty of it!

Mr Goodwin always says so — in Francesco Gagliardi recorded voice:

Mary! Silly girl!
Remember! This is The Globe
The biggest theatre in London
There are no old shows here
Only new audiences

She dreams, Mary, in Mr Goodwin’s dressing room, and she keeps herself busy while she awaits for the signal, a fanfare, and when it comes, rapid she slides on the other side of the little curtain…

4092_phlailapozzo
© Laila Pozzo