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, through sharing his words via settings and circumstances that are familiar to a 21st Century audience.
Current Status: Season One (Completed), Season Two (in Pre-Production)
Length: 5 min episodes
Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Sally McLean
Producer: Sally McLean & Billy Smedley
About Sally McLean: Actress, writer, director and producer who trained in London, lives in Melbourne and has a bit of a thing for Shakespeare.
Looking for (ie buyer, distributor, sales agent, producer, media interest): Producer for Season Two, Buyers, Media Interest.
Funders: Self Funded
Where can I watch it? http://www.shakespearerepublic.com
Congratulations! Why is this production called Shakespeare Republic?
Thank you! This is an excellent question. The short answer is: because I liked it! The longer answer is: Shakespeare wrote for the people, his rehearsal processes back in the 16th Century were collaborative and involved the full ensemble in regards to input and if you read his works closely, there is the theme of questioning absolute power.
If you look up the meaning of “Republic”, you’ll see it described as “a state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives”, which is along the lines of how the project is run – I may have come up with the initial concept, but the ensemble (or “Republic members”, as we call ourselves) are just as active in choosing the content and all collaborate with me on how we present it.
I then take those pieces and ideas and put them together, writing the scripts around Shakespeare’s text to fit the style of the whole series visually and thematically, as well as working with the cast on performance as Director.
Why a web series?
Many years ago I was fortunate to have as my Honorary Patron (and mentor), Sir Nigel Hawthorne. Most remember him for his role as “Sir Humphrey Appleby” in Yes, Minister, but he also played a lot of Shakespeare. It was while he was rehearsing the title role in King Lear for the the Royal Shakespeare Company, that we briefly discussed the idea of Shakespeare for the screen and what might work for modern audiences.
I mentioned my idea of finding a way to bring Shakespeare to modern audiences in bite sized pieces and Nigel thought it fascinating, but we weren’t sure where to find a home for the concept. This was the days before the Internet became what it is and the idea of the medium of web television hadn’t even been thought of. And so the concept was put to one side, but not forgotten.
Then, the web series world was born and so the stage was set for this work. Sadly too late for Nigel to be a part of it, but his influence is still strong and I like to think he’d like what we’ve done.
The main idea behind Shakespeare Republic was to bring Shakespeare to audiences who may not usually watch or attend a full play. So I’m delighted to say we’ve attracted audience from around the world that may not normally have engaged in another, longer-form medium.
Also, by using the web series format and focusing on performing smaller pieces of the text, rather than a full play, we have gathered a diverse group of actors – some with a lot of Shakespeare experience, some with none at all - who have all brought their own take and style to the work, which has built a rich tapestry of fascinating performances (to paraphrase the Bard).
Why do you feel such a close connection to William Shakespeare?
This is an interesting question. I will confess that when I first met Shakespeare (in high school English class), I was not a fan. The language was difficult and archaic and it was simply boring. So I spent the first few years of my acting career under the impression that Shakespeare was not for me. Then I moved to London and was accepted into Drama School and naturally couldn’t avoid Shakespeare, as it was part of the curriculum.
But I was saved by having the most brilliant Shakespeare teacher, Phil Peacock, who made Shakespeare so accessible for me that I suddenly joined the dots and voila! There it was – a clear meaning and understanding. Added to this was my being given the thesis topic “Elizabethan Theatre”, which meant a lot of research and immersing myself in the history (which luckily was even easier due to actually being in the city where Shakespeare lived and worked) and suddenly one day I was a raving fan.
It was like a light bulb switched on in my head and I “got” it. Sure, I still need to look up words we no longer use in his text to double-check meaning, but in that moment of connection, a whole new and yet strangely familiar world suddenly came into existence for me.
I think seeing and exploring the history helped a lot - and being exposed to his work and world via those who performed it and knew it well. I spent a lot of time hanging around the building of the Globe Theatre on Southbank, and seeing the passion of Sam Wanamaker and his team was inspiring.
I worked in production with the BBC in Music & Arts, and we produced a collection of Bard related projects during my time there, which opened my eyes to how Shakespeare could be done well and differently on screen. And then my work with various theatre companies in the UK and Australia, getting to constantly perform the work, has meant that I have spent the better part of my adult life discussing, performing and celebrating the Bard.
And let’s face it – he was a genius with words and he (and his fellow Elizabethan and Jacobean playwrights) is the father of modern theatre and cinema as we know it today, at least in the Western world.
4. In the clip on We are moving stories the role of Juliet is played by a male actor. Can you discuss the tradition you’re working in when you decided to change sex?
That episode was interesting, in that it is traditional (male playing female), but we weren’t actually playing it that way, as it’s really a same sex relationship (current modern debate). In Shakespeare’s time, all the female roles were played by boys, who wore dresses and wigs to look female, as it was illegal to have women on the stage due to it being seen as indecent (most of the playhouses were in the Red Light districts of Elizabethan London).
I have a lot more to say on that whole situation, and the patriarchy of the time, but I’ll save it for a blog post on our site! The Pantomime Dame is a hangover from that period, albeit a cartoonish one.
Ben Steel (the actor) and I discussed how to present Juliet’s speech in a way that would appeal to him as an actor, and still be true to Shakespeare’s intent and world on some level. We hit on the idea of a Skype/Video chat between two lovers who had just met in person, but could not be seen together – which meant changing Shakespeare’s setting slightly to have a pre-arranged meeting where Romeo is late, rather than Romeo accidently overhearing Juliet.
Both Ben and I are passionate about same-sex marriage being fully legalized and off the debate table, so it was also our chance to take a famous scene, possibly Shakespeare’s most famous, and give it some extra political and social spice and intent for modern Australia.
We also had Hamlet as a woman in a bath, played by Rowena Hutson, so we made sure to play the text in as many different ways as possible!
What type of feedback have you received so far?
We have been truly humbled and delighted at the feedback for Season One. We were all a bit nervous about how it would be received; Shakespeare lovers are a tough audience and you can cop a lot of flack if they think you’re doing something questionable to the work.
But we’ve had such lovely feedback from people - via social media particularly - and found a loyal group of fans, from English professors and true Shakespeare aficionados, to people who just connected to the work with no real experience of Shakespeare beforehand (who were our main target audience).
Michala Banas’ episode as Phebe is a good example of the kind of reaction we got across the board – people loved the humour and the irreverence, but that we were true to Shakespeare’s text – one History professor going as far as saying that Shakespeare would definitely approve! A big call, but lovely feedback to hear.
The series has also received Official Selection for twelve film and web series festivals internationally to date, with several nominations ranging from “Best Short” to “Best Actor” to “Best Web Series” and we have won two awards, which is amazing!
How has the feedback influenced your second web series of Shakespeare Republic?
People have loved the modern technology aspect of Season One – mobile technology was one of the connecting themes I built into each piece (as long as it served the text), which began with a text conversation with Alan Fletcher when prepping for his piece as Macbeth - so we will be keeping that aspect and building on it.
We will also be expanding on the number of episodes and adding new cast. The response from actors has been amazing – we’ve had so many put themselves forward to work on the next season, it’s rather overwhelming! We also intend to work with one Director of Photography, if possible. We had three on Season One and they were all brilliant, but I feel that choosing one style of shooting for next season’s concept is important.
There are other ideas floating around, including involving music, but that’s all I can publicly say right now! My brief for this next season is to not rest on our laurels, but push the experiment further – remaining true to our core principal of making Shakespeare engaging and relevant for the 21st Century, while respecting the text.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
I think we were surprised at how passionate about the work people were. I feel that there are some things that need improvement – I learnt so much about the web series medium this first time out as Director, for one thing and there’s always room for improvement generally! – but people seemed to just be drawn into these little worlds and loved being there. That was lovely and surprising.
I was bracing myself for some criticism - after all, we’re playing with the work of one of the greatest writers the English speaking world has seen! But the encouragement, the love, the enjoyment of the work has been humbling, exciting and yes, surprising. And we are all so grateful for it!
What are you looking to achieve by having your web series more visible on this platform?
To reach a wider audience and keep facilitating our intent of showing that Shakespeare is as relevant to us today as he was 400 odd years ago. We particularly want to reach out to high school kids.
My big thing, along with the rest of the ensemble, is that Shakespeare wrote to be performed, not read, and the best way to encounter his work is via performance. We just want to reach as many people as possible and explore every avenue to share our love of the work and the brilliance of the Bard.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify the message of this web series?
We are looking for a producer to join the team for Season Two, and to also help with our live show version. Buyers and sales agents who might be interested. Media and journalists. We’re currently crowdfunding for the next lot of work, so anyone who is good with fundraising and marketing would be great as well!
What type of impact would you like this web series to have?
We simply want people to be able to enjoy Shakespeare. And realise that he’s not as difficult to fathom as they may have thought. The team and I feel that he had a lot of pertinent things to say and lessons we need reminding of, and ultimately – those words!
In the world of texting language and status updates of 140 characters, we feel that bringing some of his expansive and huge language and ideas into the conversation again in an engaging, entertaining way is important to keep grounding us, as well as elevating us, in this crazy modern world.
Lastly, what’s a key question that will help spark a debate about this web series?
Do you love the Bard? Why/why not? Discuss. :)
Interview: April 2016
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