Geneva's Shakespeare in the Park goes virtual with 'Much Ado About Nothing'
Picnicking at the annual Shakespeare in the Park event won't be possible this year due to COVID-19 restrictions; however, fans can get their fix via a YouTube performance offered by the Geneva Cultural Arts Commission.
This year's annual performance has moved from the Island Park stage to the virtual stage. Elgin-based Goodly Creatures Theatre will present the comedy "Much Ado About Nothing," to be released Saturday, July 18, the original event date.
"Canceling the event for safety concern disappointed many of our fans," said event chair Gail Gaboda.
The outdoor play draws up to 1,000 audience members, and many plan their summers around the Shakespeare date.
"While we can't gather in the park, we wanted to find a way to connect with them."
"We are living in unprecedented times for theater, though not altogether unfamiliar," said Katrina Syrris, Goodly Creatures founder and artistic director.
"The art of theater has endured many historical challenges, and Shakespeare himself lived and worked through several bouts of pandemic in his lifetime."
Meanwhile, many actors have kept their art alive by using teleconferencing resources like Skype, Zoom and Google Meetings, she noted. Syrris was inspired to develop an online performance that would be more than "faces in boxes the whole time."
She creatively cast actors who sheltered in place together "so that our romantic leads could still interact with each other on camera."
Adapting a classic play for Zoom is part of living in these unprecedented times, Syrris noted.
"We are fortunate in that, for the first time in history, we have access to almost unlimited means for remote communication and, as such, performance. It's our job as artists to continue the tradition and persevere like our predecessors."
Syrris, an alumnae of the popular Midsummer Theatre Troupe that previously performed at Shakespeare in the Park, founded Goodly Creatures in 2018. This traveling theater company specializes in breathing new life into classic works of literature and producing original and thrilling plays.
Shakespeare's comedy "Much Ado About Nothing" tells the story of Benedick and Beatrice, a pair of sworn enemies constantly engaged in a "merry war" designed to insult and berate one another. A plot then unfolds among their close friends and spectators to trick the two into confessing their love for each other.
Meanwhile, Claudio, a soldier of the prince Don Pedro, is fooled into believing that his beloved Hero has been unfaithful to him. Hilarity ensues, as a story of rumors, deception, and mistaken identity unfolds, and the most unlikely pairs join forces to set things right.
The performance will run 90 minutes and be filled with humor enhanced by film techniques. Viewers will see the same type of humor and puns that are infused in the live performances.
"The video version of this production is absolutely humorous," Syrris said, "and we are exploring ways to make use of film techniques to enhance the humor of scenes that otherwise would be blocked for the stage. It's becoming a hybrid of two artistic mediums."
To aid in character identifications, themed costumes create visual grouping among characters, showing the audience which characters go together. For example, the watchmen will wear matching Security T-shirts.
Actors' safety was a top concern throughout production, so Syrris this year opted for modern costumes consisting of pieces that could be pulled from actors' closets and ordered online, rather than classic costumes that would require in-person fittings.
Moving a performance from the stage to the screen requires tech know-how and editing skills to splice together shots of actors one-on-one with group meetings, Syrris noted.
"Fortunately, we have the capabilities to compose it and make it engaging," she said.
"In the end, the energy of the cast and their talent will transcend a classic stage just as it will transcend a computer screen. It may actually feel even more personal, because audiences will be able to see actors up-close, and the subtleties in facial expression and body language will be enhanced."
For information, visit genevarts.org.
How to watch
"Much Ado About Nothing," a video play performed by Goodly Creatures Theatre under the direction of Katrina Syrris, will be available for viewing on the Geneva Cultural Arts Commission Shakespeare in the Park page, www.geneva.il.us/Shakespeare, Saturday, July 18, through Labor Day, Sept. 7.
Shakespeare in the Park organizers encourage fans to host watch parties, share the video or (safely) picnic with family or friends in the backyard while watching the video.
For more information, visit genevarts.org.