From Hamlet in a bathtub to Juliet as one half of a same sex couple, Shakespeare Republic is a collective of Australian-based actors who have come together to celebrate Shakespeare, his works and his enduring legacy, via settings and circumstances that are familiar to a 21st Century audience. Directed by Sally McLean, with performances from Michala Banas, Alan Fletcher, Ben Steel, Sally McLean, Rowena Hutson and Billy Smedley, this is deliberately Shakespeare with a difference!
Why did you choose to incorporate Shakespeare and modern life?
Despite Shakespeare writing his works over 400 years ago, the themes explored and his observances of human nature still remain very relevant. Love, hate, war, the pursuit of happiness, anger, lust, avarice, jealousy – the list goes on and all these things are still emotions we feel and act upon in the modern world. For all our technological breakthroughs, we are still very much the same kind of humans as we were back in Elizabethan times – only we now, for better or ill, have smartphones, tablets, computers and cars, to name a few inventions since.
People have been adapting and remaking Shakespeare’s plays for centuries, are there any remakes that you particularly love or hate?
This is such a tough question! At the moment, my favourite Shakespeare adaptations would be the RSC’s Hamlet with David Tennant (I so truly love his “To be or not to be” speech and the scene with Polonius, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern – just exquisite examples of pathos and comedy, respectively), the BBC/American Playhouse film Much Ado About Nothing with Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson, Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet is definitely on the list, Zeffirelli’s Romeo & Juliet is just beautiful and so alive. Polanski’s Macbeth – that opening sequence! So creepy – that whole film is strange, dark and controversial and I find it fascinating.
Not strictly adaptations, but I must give special mention to the Doctor Who episode which featured Shakespeare while he was writing Macbeth – because that was just geek nirvana for me! And Something Rotten (musical comedy currently playing on Broadway) … Christian Borle playing Shakespeare, as essentially a rock star of the Elizabethan age with distinct Tim Curry overtones? I will publicly confess that he’s my current theatrical crush as a result of his work in that role.
What (and/or who) inspired your series?
It’s hard to pinpoint just one thing that inspired Shakespeare Republic – it’s more a culmination of events and people. I guess if I was going to name the first influence, it would be drama school in London. Up until then I had no interest in Shakespeare at all. Having had awful experiences with the text in high school English class, I had always thought Shakespeare just wasn’t for me. But I had an amazing Shakespeare teacher in drama school who really turned the bard around for me. I’ll always remember him telling me that if Shakespeare were alive today, he’d have started on a TV soap and ended up writing blockbuster Hollywood films – he was a popular writer, a writer for the people – all the people.
As for the series itself? I’d say probably my time at the BBC helped – working for that handful of years in the Music & Arts Department and engaging with such groundbreaking and clever filmmaking about the arts certainly opened my eyes to what was possible. And my Honorary Patron of my production business, Sir Nigel Hawthorne. He was a highly respected Shakespearean actor, and always spoke of getting to the core of the character, beyond the language. That was a huge education for me as well in how to play Shakespeare, which I certainly call on when directing and playing in the series now.
Is there a magic formula for a successful web series?
If there is, I’m very open to hearing it! I don’t know about a magic formula, but what I have learned from my career so far and with Shakespeare Republic in particular, is that you should, at every opportunity, chose to do something you love. This goes for any creative venture, really. If you’re passionate about the story you’re telling or the subject you’re focused on, then it’s that much easier to get up in the morning and do the hard work required to put that content on the screen.
Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Choose your team carefully – make sure they’re great at what they do, but also great to be around. There will be times when things are stressful and so having a good sense of humour is a must. If you don’t have one, develop one! Always, always appreciate and thank your team. Whether you are working on a shoestring or a full budget, this industry is made up of human beings – and everyone works much better knowing they’re valued.
Take risks. I keep referring to Shakespeare Republic as “the experiment” and that has allowed me and the team to do just that – experiment and try new things with how we present this world we’ve created. Collaborate. Listen to your team – they’ll give you ideas and thoughts you would never have had on your own.
Is your series an ongoing project? If so can you give us some clues about what comes next?
Yes, Shakespeare Republic is coming back for another season later this year. What shape it will take comes down to what funding we can raise, but I’ll happily share some clues about what we have planned …
Clue #1 – Live show that will also be streamed online;
Clue #2 – Expanded cast including Dean Haglund (X Files), Wahibe Moussa (Kick), Shane Savage (Chris & Josh), Stephen Costan (one of Australia’s most respected theatre actors, directors and voice coaches) and Christopher Kirby (Iron Sky, Matrix 2 & 3), among others; and
Clue #3 – Expanded web series in the same vein, but different ;)