Shakespeare Republic: #LoveTheBard is a celebration of the world’s greatest playwright, and his diverse and insightful understanding of the big issues of his time.
Shakespeare Republic aims to engage new audiences, to educate and to challenge the concept of “traditional” Shakespeare, with a modern twist.
The award winning series is now in its second season. Writer, director and producer, Sally McLean spoke to MWF about her love for Shakespeare and the creating the series.
What inspired your web series?
It’s a combination of influences, really. My time at drama school in London studying Shakespeare, working for the BBC in production, and conversations with my Honorary Patron of my production business, Sir Nigel Hawthorne, himself a highly respected Shakespearean actor, sadly no longer with us, about creating some kind of bite-sized format to help people access the works, formed the foundation for what became Shakespeare Republic – and that all happened over a decade ago in the UK. Fast forward to 2015, after I’d spent a few seasons performing Shakespeare with various companies here and in the UK, and had become fully imbued with love for the Bard, and the idea hit fully – why not take all those ideas about performing Shakespeare that had been loitering around in my brain for so many years and put them into a web series? It was the perfect format for what I wanted to do and so the experiment began …
For season two you have managed to do double the amount of episodes, what was the biggest challenge when it came to production?
Shooting 13 episodes in 10 days was a major challenge, but we were constrained for time and availability of cast and crew, so we had two filming blocks – one 2 day block and then one 8 day block. The last block was 8 consecutive days filming, which was ambitious, no doubt. It meant that we were also occasionally filming 2 episodes on the one day, which equals shooting roughly 11-12 screen minutes a day – which is a pretty ambitious schedule. In total, we shot the equivalent of a feature film in 10 days and we only finished behind schedule once by 25 minutes (due to circumstances at the location beyond our control) – which was extraordinary.
Having double the episodes also meant double the commitment for our crew in regards to the amount of filming time required. Luckily they were all champions and made themselves available, but it was a big ask, particularly as we filmed that 8 day block. The bonus, however, when working so solidly in one hit was that we got into a rhythm and despite the hours and time pressures, bonded even more as a unit. As Director/Producer, it had its challenges (early mornings on set, late nights doing the paperwork, etc), but I preferred working that way to other alternatives available.
Do you have any future plans for this series?
We did a live performance immersive theatre version of the work to launch Season Two last year, which got a fair amount of interest from various quarters and have just filmed and premiered our first commissioned short film that sprang from the Shakespeare Republic universe, called “Speaking Daggers”, which premiered at the Arts Learning Festival at ACMI at the beginning of May this year and is now doing the film festival circuit. The short film was shot in one day and involved eight Shakespeare characters from five different plays in one setting. So it will be interesting to see what comes from those offshoots. And we’ve already begun planning Season Three of the web series, which takes the work to another place again in regards to production values and storytelling. I’m enjoying thinking about that at the moment, and cast are already bringing their own ideas to me, so development has most certainly begun on that.
What do you want your audience to take away from this series?
I’d like the audience to come away from watching the series feeling firstly, that they had fun and been entertained and secondly, that Shakespeare isn’t the difficult behemoth that he is often perceived to be. Or alternatively, that his work isn’t as boring as some think it is. That actually he was writing about us, the human race, and while those words were originally spoken over 400 years ago, we haven’t really changed all that much in our basic natures and needs.
What is unique about your series?
I hear from others who have watched the work that the unique feature for them is the modernising of Shakespeare, without changing the text, as well as the bite-sized nature of the series. A “Shakespeare taste test” as one person called it, which I quite like as a description.
In addition to that, Season Two has been structured to be not just a web series, but also a longer TV mini-series and a feature film, and while that’s not a new way of doing things, I suspect it’s the first time it’s been done this way with Shakespeare. Season Two is “a day in the life” of 13 of Shakespeare’s characters from 12 different plays who exist in the same world, living their lives in modern society, sometimes meeting, sometimes passing like ships in the night, using Shakespeare’s original text. We have released the episodes out of order for the other two formats, which was done deliberately, but if you play around with them in a playlist, you may get an idea how it all connects up (there is some additional extra footage missing in the episodes that was shot for the longer form versions – just fyi for those who do decide to try this!)
What is your background as a web series creator?
Shakespeare Republic is my first full foray into the web series world as Writer/Director/Producer. I did write and direct a pilot for another web series in 2009, set in the online dating world, for a production company in Sydney, but that was my only other involvement behind the camera. I have acted in other web series, the last time was a guest role in Chris & Josh (the web series), directed by Matt Smolen, but apart from that – I’m very new to the scene! But I am a filmmaker in documentary, and a screenwriter, as well as working in television production on and off alongside my acting career, so I have a background in film and TV on both sides of the camera.
What advice would you give to emerging creators?
If you want to take an idea and put it on the screen, then do it – but make sure you’re passionate about it, because it ain’t always easy and you’ll need to be in love with what you’re doing to go the extra miles required. Take risks. Aim to always do your best work and to always keep learning. None of us stop learning, no matter how much experience we have, and hopefully that will be your ongoing reality if you’re serious about this biz.
What do you like most about working with Shakespeare texts?
The fact that his work is so layered. You think that you have a passage nailed down in meaning, and then you take another look at it and realise that he’s put in another idea just below the surface. He was the master of double entendre and innuendo, had a filthy sense of humour (if you look closely at the works) but also had a gift for taking complex ideas and making them sound very simple – until you start digging and realise how profound some of his commentary on human nature can be.
He also wrote the first “Knock, knock” joke in English literature, so he’s not all about high poetry!
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