A Space for the Shakes @ thespace.org
The Past, the Present & the Not-so-post-colonial Shakespeare Online
The BBC has done it again.
Being the long-standing, leading provider of Great Britain and the rest of the world with what is generally agreed to be higher-than-usual quality public service broadcasting that aims to inform, educate and entertain, the BBC launched last May, a multimedia, multi-platform, cross-genre, global arts service that supports video, audio, articles, image galleries, games, interactive applications and live streams and is capable of being available on smartphones, tablets, computers, smart TVs, and Freeview HD.
This is known as ‘The Space’ whose site is thespace.org, where one can watch full performances, catch unmissable live events, delve into rare archives and explore interactive collections. The Space is also a place where everybody can experiment with ideas and play with images, text and sound. With all of the arts in one place – and with new material added daily – it allows one to feel free to discover, participate and enjoy art.
With regards to Shakespeare’s transmediality, the BBC of course is historically and popularly known to have more than one special place for the Bard’s works in its programs and projects; from Shakespeare-inspired/alluding television shows, camera-captured theatrical performances, to the Shakespeare Animated Tales, once can say that when “Shakespeare in Modern Media” is uttered, the BBC is a company that quickly comes to mind. It is no surprise then that this newer effort of The Space would contain more of the Bard’s things.
The Past: Silent Shakespeare
Containing parts of a collection of very early films of William Shakespeare’s works from the British Film Institutes archives, The Space features four cinematic love affairs with Shakespeare, dating from the earliest days of film. In its infancy film was regarded as a rather lowbrow medium, and the budding film industry attempted to elevate its cultural status by imitating the theatre. Adapting the works of Shakespeare was the film-makers’ greatest challenge, especially since films at that time – pre World War 1 – tended to be only one or two reels long.
The four films in this unique collection – from Britain, Italy and the USA – are created from the only known surviving materials, nitrate prints preserved by the BFI’s National Archive. They have survived for almost a century, and include beautiful examples of hand stencilling and tinted prints. There is a magical version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream containing some remarkable special effects, a wonderfully dark and moody early Italian adapation of King Lear, a charming five-minute film of The Tempest, and the very first Shakespeare film ever made, King John, in 1899. This unique and fascinating record shows us the exuberance, invention and conviction of these early film-makers and further demonstrates the possibility of the Shakespearean text.
The Present: World Shakespeare Festival
The World Shakespeare Festival is a celebration of Shakespeare as the world’s playwright, produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company, in an unprecedented collaboration with leading UK and international arts organisations, and with Globe to Globe (to be elaborated on later), a major international programme produced by Shakespeare’s Globe. It includes more than 70 productions, as well as events and exhibitions right across the UK.
The Royal Shakespeare Company is currently working with independent production company Rare Day to produce a series of films for The Space called World Shakespeare Festival Television. Documentary film-makers, video artists and animators will provide their own perspective on the Festival and Shakespeare. So far, The Space itself contains fourteen of these: An Introduction, Comedy of Errors, Romeo and Juliet in Baghdad, The Dark Side of Love, The Rest Is Silence, ‘I, Cinna’, ‘I, Cinna’ Backstage, Open Stages: Romeo and Juliet, Open Stages: Macbeth, Coriolan/us, Julius Caesar, Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare’s Confessions and Forests.
The Not-so-post-colonial: Globe to Globe
Also shown on The Space are some parts of an event of unprecedented ambition, when last April 21 to June 9, 2012, all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays were performed, each in a different language, each by a different international company. Every day for six weeks, national theatres, renowned artists and new young companies celebrated performing Shakespeare in their own language, all within the architecture Shakespeare wrote for. These artists played ‘the Globe way’ – telling stories through the word and the actor, complemented by costumes, music and dance – and attempted to complete each play within two-and-a-quarter hours. Ultimately, the Globe to Globe festival’s roster of participants proved to make for a carnival of stories; There were inspirational stories – companies who worked underground and in war zones; momentous stories – the first ever visit to these shores for some of the world’s most prestigious national theatres; and returning stories – groups which have already wowed audiences at the Globe, in the Barbican and in the West End, who have come back for more.
To augment this experience though, wherever one is in the world, he can take part in the Festival through a new digital platform, My Shakespeare, launched to mark the start of the Festival last April 23rd. This major new project aims to create a global digital conversation, creating a view of Shakespeare through a twenty-first century lens. The site will include guest bloggers, a unique online search of Shakespeare’s plays, a chance to create your own visualization and new artists’ commissions released onto the site.
Overall, the unprecedented artistic collaboration aimed to seed new international and national partnerships which could inspire new ways of working. It sought to bring Shakespeare to a wider audience through live performance, education, events, exhibitions and digital projects. Many of the new commissions created for the Festival were planned for having a future life and will be used to begin a global conversation about Shakespeare through My Shakespeare, creating an understanding of his place in the 21st Century.
From this, we can see that new technologies are enabling forms of borrowing, appropriation and “remixing” of media materials in exciting, provocative ways. Although many creators and observers of such work assume the practice is brand new, a unique feature of our digital culture, the truth is that the act of seizing upon and repurposing artistic materials belonging to others is as old as art itself. The history of the use and appropriation of Shakespeare is an especially instructive instance of this eternal (and necessary) cultural process.