What we do
Shakespeare at Play was founded on the principle that Shakespeare does not have to be intimidating to read or learn. Shakespeare's works are meant to be performed, so seeing and hearing the action unfold can aid tremendously in understanding the story of a play. While Shakespeare's texts can and do serve as great literature, simply reading a 400-year-old script can be formidable for the inexperienced. Shakespeare at Play equips its users with a multitude of tools to tailor the experience of reading Shakespeare to their own particular needs.
Our video productions are staged like theatrical performances, but for a camera instead of a live audience. We employ traditional theatrical conventions, such as impressionistic sets and cast-doubling, but we also take advantage of the power of photography and digital video to help tell the stories most effectively to a digitally-engaged audience.
All of our actors are classically trained, and each performance is delivered with word-for-word accuracy. Unlike most filmed versions of Shakespeare, even ones filmed on stage by prominent companies, our text has not been cut down or re-arranged to meet the needs of the particular film or production. Shakespeare at Play's aim is to bring clarity to the text, and that means that we present the every word of Shakespeare's text to our audiences.
We put the focus on character and story, making sure that the action is clear and the progression of the plot is understandable. We use simple, modern dress, but do not relocate the plays to a contemporary setting. We use minimal sets, but employ appropriate set pieces to make sure the setting and location is clear (when it needs to be). Our aesthetic is always evolving so that we can meet the needs of every play that we commit to video.
That doesn't mean that Shakespeare at Play has ignored the importance or the power of Shakespeare's text. The text in all of our Video Editions has been edited by the University of Toronto's Noam Lior, the dramaturge on all of our productions as well as the academic voice of Shakespeare at Play. His contextual materials -- the in-line annotations and audio introductions -- serve as valuable aids in helping newcomers to understand the written text of each play.
Lior puts much of the focus of his supplemental material on presenting options for performance and interpretation. Rather than attempting to offer a definitive reading, Lior challenges viewers and readers to make interpretational choices when a play demands it. These choices can be as large as the mental stability of a character like Polonius in Hamlet or as small as the attention paid to Theseus by the lovers when they awake in Act 4 Scene 1 of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Most importantly, he stresses that the choices that we've made in our productions of Shakespeare's plays are not the definitive choices, but rather one possible choice followed by another possible choice.
The aim is to emphasize the readers' role in shaping the story, since what they are presented with is a script and not a novel. This is especially useful in the classroom, where students are challenged not just to comprehend the action, but to interpret it, shape it and communicate their ideas to their classmates.
what is included in each video edition:
- A full-length, word-for-word HD video production of the play
- A full-length copy of the text, edited by the University of Toronto's Noam Lior
- Hundreds of in-line annotations that offer clarity to the text and points-of-interest in the story
- A custom-made glossary of words and terms that have either gone out of use or meant something different 400 years ago
- An audio introduction to every scene by the University of Toronto's Noam Lior, which includes a description of the action as well as things to look out for
- Character and Scene Descriptions for each scene
- Line numbers for citation and referencing
- The ability to download the video of any scene for offline use