Like many bookish friends, I’ve been reflecting a lot on Emily St. John Mandel’s prescient novel Station Eleven lately. For those who haven’t read it, the book takes place after civilization has been destroyed by a deadly pandemic known as the “Georgia Flu”. (Despite the premise, it’s a beautiful, lyrical book that’s ultimately hopeful about humanity and if you haven’t read it but are one of those who devoured the 2011 thriller Contagion in March you should definitely pick this up. If you don’t like your fiction quite so eerily relevant to current events, I’d suggest making a mental note to read it in a few years). I recently attended a TPL crowdcast event promoting Mandel’s new novel, The Glass Hotel (which you can watch here), where the interviewer mentioned that Station Eleven (2014) has re-entered the Canadian Fiction bestseller list in the wake of COVID-19. I don’t think any of her readers expected to relate to the characters of Station Eleven in such a literal way, but almost as unexpected is just how much I’m relating these days to the novel’s theme of connection with others through art, and more specifically, through Shakespeare.
From Zoom readings of his works conducted both by amateurs armed with a great deal of enthusiasm and actors taking their passion for their craft virtual while they wait for theatres to reopen to free streams of his plays by respected institutions across the globe, the Bard seems to be everywhere these days! So whether you’re keeping a carefully organized list of Shakespearean and other theatre productions to stream before they disappear or are simply looking to dip your toe into the water, here are a few ways to incorporate some Shakespeare into your quarantine life!
Shakespeare Plays Streaming
The Stratford Festival
I have to start with some homegrown Canadian Shakespeare talent, which means the Stratford Shakespeare Festival! Located in Stratford, Ontario, Canada, the Stratford Festival runs annually from April to October. Although its primary focus is Shakespeare, the Festival also performs other plays and even some musicals in rep/rotation. The festival is offering free streaming of 12 of its productions, scheduling its film showings around four themes that seem relevant today: Social Order and Leadership, Isolation, Minds Pushed to the Edge, and Relationships. A new film is released each week on Thursday and it’s then available for 3 weeks on the Stratford Festival website. Their kick-off production, “King Lear”, has now expired, but here are the next several weeks and their availability:
“Coriolanus” (April 30 – May 21) * expires this Thursday
“Macbeth” (May 7 – May 28)
“The Tempest” (May 14 – June 4)
“Timon of Athens” (May 21 – June 11)
“Love’s Labour’s Lost” (May 28 – June 18)
“Hamlet” (June 4 – June 25)
“King John” (June 11 – June 25)
“The Adventures of Pericles” (June 18 – July 9)
“Antony and Cleopatra” (June 25 – July 16)
“Romeo and Juliet” (July 2 – July 23)
“The Taming of the Shrew” (July 9 – July 30)
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
A reconstruction of the Globe Theatre, the Elizabethan theatre in London where Shakespeare’s plays were performed, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre performs plays, offers tours and educational visits, and serves as a cultural landmark. During its closure, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre is making some of its plays available online. While Macbeth is available until schools reopen in the UK, other selections will be available to stream for 14 days:
“Macbeth” (2020) – available until UK secondary schools reopen.
“The Winter’s Tale” (2018) – May 18 until May 31
“The Merry Wives of Windsor” (2019) – June 1 until June 14
“A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream” (2013) – June 15 until June 28
If your Shakespeare itch is still not scratched or there’s a different play that you’re looking for, Shakespeare’s Globe also has additional selections on its on demand platform Globe Player to rent, purchase, or send as a gift.
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London raises 95% of its revenue through ticket sales, guided tours, education workshops, retail and catering – which all depend upon the venue being open to the public and are in critical danger of not being able to reopen after the pandemic so I know times are tight for many of us, but if you are able to donate to the Globe or help one or more of these wonderful arts organizations offering programming, please consider doing so.
National Theatre Live
The broadcast arm of the National Theatre in London has been streaming a different play every Thursday. Plays are then available to watch for 7 days. I missed their acclaimed production of “Antony & Cleopatra”, but between June 4th and June 11th you can stream the 2014 Donmar production of “Coriolanus” starring Tom Hiddleston. Although I can’t say Coriolanus is my favourite play, this is an excellent adaptation of it which I was lucky enough to see during my trip to London in 2013!
PBS Great Performances
Getting on board with free streaming content, PBS Great Performances has unlocked the 2009 Rupert Goold production of “Macbeth” starring Sir Patrick Stewart.
Shakespeare Ballets Streaming
San Francisco Ballet’s “Romeo & Juliet”
This ballet adaptation of the classic tragedy “Romeo & Juliet”, danced by the San Francisco Ballet Company, is streaming on Youtube from May 11 until May 25 as part of #LincolnCenterAtHome. If you’ve never seen a ballet adaptation of Romeo & Juliet it has a gorgeous score by Sergei Prokofiev and is well worth watching!
The Royal Ballet’s “The Winter’s Tale”
One of the major reasons that I wanted to write this blog post was to let people know that one of my all-time favourite ballets, and the ballet that I would most recommend to someone who has never watched a ballet before and is curious (please don’t just watch the bloody Nutcracker and call it a day) was available to stream for free! The Royal Opera House has been alternating weeks between filmed performances of its opera and ballet performances. Christopher Wheeldon’s “The Winter’s Tale”, danced by The Royal Ballet, premiered on their Youtube channel on May 1st and was supposed to be available to view until June 1st. Unfortunately, and without any explanation, it’s been taken down early. I know it’s incredibly tacky to complain about something free (does it help that I legally purchased a copy of the blu ray?), but I know there were people who planned to watch but, due to the overwhelming amount of time sensitive theatre content out there, were waiting because they believed they’d have time, so it seems a little unfair. Still, if anyone is interested in this one I may have a way so um give me a shout if you’re interested?
American Ballet Theatre’s “The Dream”
This isn’t part of the overwhelming amount of content made available for a limited time during the pandemic, but an older filmed version (from 2002) of Fredrick Ashton’s charming one act ballet based on “a Midsummer Night’s Dream” is available in its entirety on Youtube.
If your finances haven’t been impacted by COVID-19, or if you’re comfortable signing up for a free trial and cancelling before the charges begin,this honestly does look like a pretty cool subscripton service featuring ballet, films, etc. although the layout makes it very hard to find everything that is available. Personally I don’t think there’s enough there for me to consider an annual subscription but maybe the free trial or for a few months. It does have my beloved “The Winter’s Tale” production by the Royal Ballet as well as I think a more recent HD version of Fredrick Ashton’s “The Dream”. Other Shakespeare includes a whole bunch of Royal Shakespeare Company productions, including “Richard II” with David Tennant.
Shakespeare Zoom Readings
For the last four weeks #ProjectShakespeare has been the highlight of my quarantine! I was invited by Rachel and Abby to join the group and made my debut in April playing the integral roles of Francisco, Cornelius, and Messenger in “Hamlet”. While I took musical theatre and dance lessons and even a year of drama in high school,
I’m a shy, anxious person who loves watching and writing about plays and musicals but has never entertained dreams of appearing in them. Yet despite the intimidating level of talent and dedication in this group, everyone is so supportive and welcoming that I’ve enjoyed every single minute of preparation and performing. I’ve since appeared as Luciana in “The Comedy of Errors”, Cordelia in “King Lear” (a highlight for me!), and Don Pedro in “Much Ado About Nothing”. As a casual group ultimately reading/performing Shakespeare for fun, we decided that recording or streaming the performances would be somewhat daunting so these aren’t available to view or rewatch, but if you have a group of friends, or friends of friends, that would be interested in reading Shakespeare or other plays, I would highly recommend Zoom readings with friends!
The first stirrings of an idea for a post about the prevalence of Shakespeare in our coronavirus times came when I had to turn down a request to read a small part in a special birthday edition of a Shakespeare Zoom reading by a friend because… yes, you guessed it, I had already committed to another Shakespeare zoom reading! Kelly Bedard, the creator and editor of an online Toronto-based independent theatre (and film and TV) review site called My Entertainment World has been running her #CoronaColdReads twice a week. Streaming live on Youtube (but you can also watch the full performances after the fact) on Tuesday and Saturday nights, roles are mostly played by actors she knows from the Toronto indie theatre scene and by friends from her Alma Mater’s Shakespeare Society, although other actors have also appeared and the “King Lear” #CoronaColdReads cast features some pretty starry names if you’re at all familiar with the Toronto/Stratford theatre scene! During May they’ve been performing the history plays and I can’t watch to stream some of these soon.
Although, as an avid theatre-goer, I see an average of one Shakespeare production every year or so, Shakespeare has never had as huge an impact on my life as his works are having right now. Between making time to watch the Stratford premieres, trying to fit in what other Shakespeare plays I can, reading the plays (some of them for the first time), and performing as part of Project Shakespeare, the Bard has completely transformed my quarantine.
Have you watched any of these or turned to Shakespeare in quarantine? What are your favourite plays or productions? Let me know in the comments and stay safe!