King Lear

Shake­speare takes to the screen

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - James M. Keller I

Our hemi­sphere has proved warmly hos­pitable to the plays of Wil­liam Shake­speare. Apart from the pro­duc­tions of his works that many the­aters of­fer in the course of nor­mal busi­ness, play­go­ers stream to the Bard-in­tense sum­mers at such the­atri­cal hot spots as the Ore­gon Shake­speare Fes­ti­val, Utah Shake­spearean Fes­ti­val, Cal­i­for­nia Shake­speare Theater (“Cal­Shakes”), and New York’s Shake­speare in the Park. But for Shake­speare afi­ciona­dos in the brave New World, the ul­ti­mate pil­grim­age site is the small city of Stratford, On­tario, pop­u­la­tion 30,000. There, the Stratford Fes­ti­val has grown from its mod­est found­ing in 1953 to be­come a huge en­ter­prise that keeps four sep­a­rate the­aters buzzing from April through Oc­to­ber with a dozen or so pro­duc­tions that al­ways in­clude a rich in­fu­sion of Shake­speare played by some of the world’s most ac­claimed ac­tors.

The Stratford Fes­ti­val is now leap­ing into the arena of high-def­i­ni­tion trans­mis­sion to dis­tant movie the­aters, join­ing such al­ready-es­tab­lished in­dus­try lead­ers as The Met: Live in HD (from the Metropoli­tan Opera in New York) and Na­tional Theatre Live (pur­veyed by the Na­tional Theatre in Lon­don, though pre­sent­ing plays from sev­eral Bri­tish and even Amer­i­can houses). The Stratford Fes­ti­val puts on plays of all sorts, but Stratford HD, as the new in­cen­tive is called, will fo­cus on its Shake­speare of­fer­ings, with the goal of even­tu­ally dis­tribut­ing its pro­duc­tions of the en­tire Shake­spearean canon, which runs to 37 or 38 plays, depend­ing on whose schol­ar­ship you sub­scribe to. In Santa Fe, the pro­duc­tions will be pre­sented at The Screen, where the ini­tial of­fer­ing, King Lear , is set to roll on Sun­day, March 1.

The Stratford Fes­ti­val has al­ready tested the wa­ters by pro­duc­ing one-off filmed treat­ments in re­cent years: Shaw’s Cae­sar and Cleopa­tra (from its 2008 pro­duc­tion star­ring Christo­pher Plummer and Nikki M. James), The Tem­pest (from its 2010 sea­son, again with Plummer), and Twelfth Night (from 2014, with Brian Den­nehy as Sir Toby Belch). “Plung­ing into this field with a con­sis­tent pres­ence is nec­es­sary to make this re­ally suc­cess­ful,” said Stratford Fes­ti­val’s ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor, Anita Gaffney, in an in­ter­view with Pasatiempo . “From a dis­tri­bu­tion per­spec­tive, the cine­mas were more in­ter­ested if we were pro­vid­ing a whole se­ries as a suite of ma­te­rial. Par­tic­u­larly in the U.S., some of them felt it would be dif­fi­cult to gain mo­men­tum through just oc­ca­sional sin­gle pro­duc­tions. For some time, artis­tic direc­tor An­toni Ci­molino and I had been think­ing it would be great to cap­ture the whole canon over 10 years. Now we can do this. Pro­duc­ing three or so per year will ful­fill the needs of the dis­trib­u­tors while al­low­ing us to of­fer great Shake­speare to an au­di­ence through­out the English-speak­ing world.”

The ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of Stratford HD is Barry Avrich, who has over­seen the Stratford Fes­ti­val’s film pro­duc­tions since its ini­tial Cae­sar and Cleopa­tra . The many non-Stratford films he has pro­duced and/or di­rected — nearly 35 at this point — in­clude such fas­ci­nat­ing en­tries as The

Last Mogul (a por­trait of Hol­ly­wood king­pin Lew Wasser­man) and Glit­ter Palace (about the Mo­tion Pic­ture Coun­try Home, a re­tire­ment com­plex for re­tirees from the movie in­dus­try). He ex­plained that, as ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of Stratford HD, he is re­spon­si­ble for “mak­ing sure ev­ery­thing from the pro­duc­ing per­spec­tive comes to­gether: se­lect­ing the right crew to film it, sched­ul­ing, bud­get­ing, post-pro­duc­tion, get­ting it de­liv­ered, man­ag­ing the en­tire process from the devel­op­ment of the film to get­ting it onto the screen, work­ing along the way with dif­fer­ent con­stituen­cies like ac­tors, di­rec­tors, and pro­duc­tion teams.” Apart from that, he has also “di­rected for the screen” this sea­son’s en­su­ing pro­duc­tions: King John (di­rected in its stage pre­sen­ta­tion by pe­riod-per­for­mance ex­pert Tim Car­roll, with a cast that in­cludes Tom McCa­mus and Seana McKenna) and Antony and Cleopa­tra (with Geraint Wyn Davies and Yanna McIn­tosh, di­rected by Gary Grif­fin). For Ci­molino’s pro­duc­tion of King Lear (which stars the dis­tin­guished ac­tor Colm Fe­ore), the film di­rec­tion is as­sumed by Joan Tosoni.

To Avrich falls the task of di­rect­ing for film what has al­ready been minutely di­rected for the stage. “I sat down with each direc­tor,” he said, “to talk about what film­ing brings to the process, about tak­ing the scale of their pro­duc­tions and adding a layer of cinema. In the theater, you don’t have the ben­e­fit of the emo­tive power of the close-up, of edit­ing, of cut­ting. In film, we can add a di­men­sion, present a larger per­spec­tive than you might get as a mem­ber of the live au­di­ence.” For Stratford HD, his ap­proach strad­dles the pro­cesses of live theater and film shoot­ing. Cer­tain per­for­mances were des­ig­nated for film­ing, and au­di­ences were care­fully pre­pared for what they would ex­pe­ri­ence. The cam­eras would roll, and then sud­denly the per­for­mance would stop. Cam­eras would be repo­si­tioned on the stage or in the hall, and a scene would be played again. “This al­lowed us to cap­ture steady-cam shots, track­ing shots, re­ally take the au­di­ence on a jour­ney,” Avrich said. “In ev­ery case, di­rec­tors have been com­fort­able adding a layer of cinema. I love the mo­ment when they sit in a screen­ing and hear how we have cap­tured the dia­logue with amaz­ing crisp­ness, beau­ti­fully recorded. On av­er­age, we use 128 tracks of sound, so you can re­ally hear a pin drop in the theater.” The film­ing or re­film­ing may some­times in­volve mi­nor changes of block­ing — where an ac­tor en­ters or is po­si­tioned — to achieve op­ti­mal cam­era an­gles, and light­ing might be ad­justed to achieve a cer­tain ef­fect, but on the whole, Avrich said, “We are striv­ing for a sense of pu­rity in what we’re film­ing.”

Although opera- and the­ater­go­ers have widely em­braced other com­pa­nies’ high-def­i­ni­tion screen­ings, it is not al­ways clear how they fit into the or­ga­ni­za­tions’ over­all busi­ness plan. Said Gaffney: “It’s a chal­lenge for all of us to fig­ure out how much mar­ket sup­port you can get into some­thing that’s beamed through the world. In our case, we have very mod­est bud­gets, and we rely on our col­league or­ga­ni­za­tions to spread the word. But for us, it is a part of our strate­gic di­rec­tion, part of a larger plan to let peo­ple know about the work we do at the Stratford Fes­ti­val. We have raised money for this project through pri­vate dona­tions, so it is sep­a­rate from the op­er­at­ing bud­get. There are some op­por­tu­ni­ties to earn rev­enues through down­loads and broad­cast fees, but the fi­nan­cial foun­da­tion is from pri­vate donors. They con­sider the fes­ti­val like part of their fam­ily, and they have re­ally been ex­cited about mak­ing it pos­si­ble to help its pro­duc­tion go around the world, pro­vid­ing not just a view­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for au­di­ence mem­bers but also a tremen­dous re­source for teach­ers and stu­dents.”

Cap­tur­ing the Shake­speare canon on film will mean fi­ness­ing the de­mands of the Stratford Fes­ti­val’s four very dif­fer­ent the­aters, from the Stu­dio Theatre (260 seats in the round, of­ten the venue for ex­per­i­men­tal pro­duc­tions) to the keystone Fes­ti­val Theatre (with its 1,833-seat au­di­to­rium). Two of the com­pany’s venues fig­ure in the first three plays, all of which were filmed dur­ing the most re­cent sea­son. King

Lear is at the Fes­ti­val Theatre; the other two are at the Tom Pat­ter­son Theatre, where an au­di­ence of 480 flanks three sides of a long run­way stage. “The Tom Pat­ter­son Theatre pre­sented an in­ter­est­ing chal­lenge,” Avrich said, “in that it has very steep seat­ing, rather like a sta­dium, and from the au­di­ence’s per­spec­tive the stage is very much on the floor. It was like film­ing in­side the most con­fined space pos­si­ble. King John is filmed in day-to-night re­al­is­tic light­ing through­out the hall, so the au­di­ence is very lit and vis­i­ble. In a way, the au­di­ence plays a role that is nearly as sig­nif­i­cant as the ac­tors’. One of the chal­lenges was for our cam­eras to not film other cam­eras, be­cause we had so many po­si­tioned at dif­fer­ent view­points in the au­di­ence. In this es­pe­cially, the cut­ting is so fast-paced it’s like shoot­ing House of Cards .”

A sig­nif­i­cant joy of the Stratford Fes­ti­val is that it takes place in an at­trac­tive but unas­sum­ing town, not un­like so many oth­ers — ex­cept that Lady Mac­beth may pedal past you on a tree-lined street or Christo­pher Plummer may be sit­ting at the next ta­ble in a restau­rant. That will be dif­fi­cult to con­vey through the films, but it does not need to be an ei­ther-or sit­u­a­tion. “Stratford HD is ad­dress­ing an es­sen­tially dif­fer­ent au­di­ence,” Gaffney said, “and an im­por­tant one for us, reach­ing peo­ple fur­ther afield than we have be­fore. We are keep­ing the fo­cus on the fact that we are a reper­tory com­pany, and we haven’t gone over­board with the preshow and in­ter­mis­sion fea­tures. Th­ese films are unique prod­ucts in them­selves, and we hope they will in­spire some view­ers to come to Stratford.”

King Lear Colm Fe­ore as King Lear; op­po­site page from left, Tom McCa­mus as King John and Wayne Best as Hu­bert; Yanna McIn­tosh as Cleopa­tra and Geraint Wyn Davies as Mark Antony; pho­tos by David Hou, images cour­tesy the Stratford Fes­ti­val

Antony and Cleopa­tra

King John

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