By: Devana Petrovic, Staff Writer
Having spent the past couple of months at home, living in my pyjama pants, I think it’s safe to say that I haven’t been out much. So, it was considerably refreshing to tune into the Plague Players’ enhanced live-read of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, even if that meant experiencing it from my living room couch.
As someone with a theatre background, who’s attended an uncomfortable amount of script readings, I am familiar with how unengaging and difficult it can be to follow. In addition to the barriers of digitizing theatre, this was something I had in mind before attending. But to my surprise, the theatre troupe did an excellent job of bringing the essence and entertainment of the bard to a computer screen, despite the significant limitations of virtual theatre.
The production was streamed to viewers through YouTube, but the actors used a live-screen recording of a zoom meeting as their “stage”, where they alternated appearing on the screen to provide a classical theatre format. The troupe read the entire unadapted version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which ended up being close to a three hour reading and had a five minute intermission for authenticity.
Directed by Joelle Wyminga, the digital production’s cast consisted of only six actors, which if you’re familiar with the play’s storyline would generally be an insufficient number. However, the Plague Players heroically worked around this by casting multiple roles per actor.
Since this was an at-home production and technically an enhanced reading, many traditional aspects of live theatre were not applicable (e.g. stage setup and production). Nonetheless, the actors took it upon themselves to create their own costumes and props that served as a form of character identification and differentiation, which was particularly helpful due to the actors playing more than one character. It was interesting to see the variety in what the actors had managed to create purely with materials they had at home. Some characters had more detailed and crafty costume pieces that could easily pass as stage appropriate, while others used clothing articles, such as socks for a hat — very innovative. As a viewer it truly enhanced my ability to follow along and added a sense of anticipation, similar to attending a play in-person.
As expected, with the live reading being reliant on the technological circumstances of both the cast and viewers, there were a couple blips in the streaming (e.g. actors transitioning into the Zoom call and minor camera failures), but the cast was very persistent and professional, not allowing any minor mishaps to affect their performance and it did not take away from the rest of the play.
The Plague Players delivered an interesting and fun virtual experience, that was certainly different than any in-person theatre production. As a virtual experience, it did not include some of the major aspects that are expected with in-person theatre — the benefits of sound, lighting, and a stage setup. However, having the actors create such effects in their individual homes made for an entirely different type of production.
The beauty of attending live theatre in-person comes with the unspoken cast and audience connection, which was impossible to achieve through a livestream performance. This, however, does not exclude the possibility of a new form of audience engagement, which is ultimately much more reliant on the attractiveness of homemade props, costumes, and other contributions made by individual actors.
Even amidst the current chaos of the world, the Plague Players’ theatre adaptation proves that new forms of artistic expression are capable of emerging, despite the limitations of social isolation.