ROBYN TOCKER — THE CARILLON (UNIVERSITY OF REGINA)
REGINA (CUP) — Twisting classical stories has historically been a go-to for film, theater and literature, so it should come as no surprise that Shakespeare and his work is some of the most often distorted. What is shocking is how no one has done a web series about him — until now.
Blank Verse is a series put together by a team of roughly 50 students, graduates and friends of students of the University of British Columbia. Amanda Konkin, one of the creative directors of the series, pitched the idea of taking Shakespeare, along with other famous writers from the time like Thomas Kyd, and putting them in a university setting.
“One of the goals of the project was to see what success means in the art world now in contrast to what it meant 500 years ago,” says Xander Williams who plays William Shakespeare. “Now there are seven billion people, the internet — where you can publish things basically for free — and millions of people who are doing the same thing as you. It’s a saturated market that is incredibly apathetic. Would the works of Shakespeare survive?”
Williams has seen the experience as an interesting one so far, especially because Shakespeare’s existence and true identity has been highly contested. “We all have different accounts of who Shakespeare is,” he said. ”It has been a great challenge to find a middle ground for all these conflicting views on who the man was behind the work.”
Williams also mentioned how every four episodes there is a different writer.
“Coming from a theatre background and playing a character that is being written as I’m playing him is new for me,” said Williams. “I think one of the great strengths of the show is the question of what Will would be like in a modern context. Just playing him as a real person and trying to let go of the figure that we all know is the key to it.”
The web series is fresh and impacting but more importantly it’s making people wonder what success means in the artistic world and why Shakespeare was chosen to hold that success.
Above all, Konkin said that the series aims to help people learn about historical figures that have affected our literary canon in many ways.
“Watching their lives unfold on a web series is fun. It sparks people’s interest to learn more about people like Thomas Kyd and what they were writing. The series opens up the world to the characters and enriches characters that people already know. Just to be able to spend five minutes a week watching the characters interact can cause you to ask questions,” Williams said.
Transmedia producer Laura Mclean believes that web series’ as a medium are impacting culture in a bold, new way.
“Web series’ creators don’t need to wait for some Hollywood producer to say they can tell their story now,” she says. “It is a much more direct relationship to the audience. It creates online material directly for them.”
There are highs and lows but for the Blank Verse crew it’s been mostly highs. The only issue that Konkin mentioned was coordinating everybody’s schedules, but even this has helped to spur creativity among the creators.
“People are forced to be creative and some of the greatest decisions made have come from this,” she explains. “You never know where ideas are going to come from and the new decisions are sometimes better than the original ideas.”
Williams has written the last few episodes, or act five, of the first season. One challenge for the Shakespeare buff has been the absence of an audience as he performs, but this isn’t to say that the series lacks a fan base.
One of Mclean’s highlights “has been creating backstories for characters. I am in charge of letting the characters tell more in-depth stories outside of the episodes. It’s a really interesting way of revealing character. It can become very interactive as viewers discover the accounts.”
“I’m inspired by television narratives and I want to tell a complete story. There is certainly potential for five seasons,” said Konkin of the series’ goals. “We’re looking to grassroots campaigns and digital media funding to get more resources to create the second season. We want to make sure there’s support out there for it and create the best project possible.”
As the writer for the fifth act, Williams gave us a little hint about the content.
“It’s the time in Shakespeare’s life when he’s writing Romeo and Juliet, so anyone familiar with that play is going to want to watch,” reveals Williams.
Konkin’s big hope, however, is that people watch Blank Verse and have fun with the series.
“Like Shakespeare, we’re finding our way in the world and I hope people engage with our work,” she said. “It’s such a rewarding experience.”
Photo: Wikimedia Commons