The 21st Century film world is all a flutter this week in honor of Shakespeare’s 450th birthday. Celebratory options for this Wednesday, April 23rd range from an offbeat comedy to an eloquently told story of love to a stop-action LEGO animation. I plan to gorge on all three.
Glee Meets The Bard:
The TV comedy series Complete Works—in the spirit of Waiting for Guffman and Mean Girls—is about the “cutthroat world of collegiate Shakespeare competition.” Originally, the indie Kingdom for a Horse production company produced the comedy with the intention of turning it into a web series, but Hulu, the Internet TV network, has thankfully picked it up. Appropriately, it debuts on the Bard’s birthday Wednesday, April 23.
Our hero is Hal Evans (Joe Sofranko), a Shakespeare geek from Indiana, who is competing for the top title at the American Shakespeare Competition, against five far more savvy competitors. This underdog, merely the Midwest Regionals runner up, only makes it to the national competition because the real winner is a no show.
The idea for the five-episode series came when three friends—former theater majors from the University of Southern California—were brainstorming ideas. These self-confessed theater nerds—Joe Sofranko and Adam North, co-writers and directors, and Lili Fuller, the show’s executive producer—all loved Shakespeare and the zany theater world, and Sofranko knew competitive theater intimately. In 2004, he won the prestigious National Shakespeare Competition in New York City, beating out 16,000 U.S. high-school students. For the finals, he with nine other contestants performed a monologue and sonnet at Lincoln Center.
Sofranko plays the naïve Hal, who dreams of escaping his boring community college and launching a performance career in the big leagues. While Sofranko draws from his experiences, the series is more fiction than autobiographical. The real Shakespeare competition, Fuller says, “wasn’t so cutthroat,” but amidst the fun “was this underlying tension of ‘Is he good enough? Who’s going to win?’” Plus, Sofranko says he is more “savvy, less socially awkward, but we’re both naïve, both grew up with Midwestern roots, and I didn’t get into Juilliard either.”
Writer/director Yorgo Lykouria is debuting his Verona, a 15-minute version of Romeo and Juliet on the Bard’s birthday. “People associate Shakespeare with being very long and difficult,” says Lykouria, “but we capture the essential meaning of the play and the characters,” rather quickly.
Verona takes place on a single night in modern-day London, where Lord Capulet battles against Lord Montague for control of “Constellation Defense.” “Romeo and Juliet are so out of the ordinary,” says Lykouria. “These characters fall in love so quickly and are willing to lose everything—even their lives—for love.”
For this reason, some argue that Romeo and Juliet are naïve. “That is not what Shakespeare is saying,” Lykouria contends. “They talk about stars, the heavens, and eternity… Shakespeare is telling us that this is a pure, heavenly love, and heavenly love is destroyed by earthly concerns.”
The cast and crew shot for six nights. “When the sun came up we stopped,” he says. “We lived like vampires for a week. It was an amazing shoot, fast paced. I had to remember to let the piece breathe, let characters bond. It’s hard when every second counts.”
This short is only the first in a series of 10 shorts to come, based on Shakespeare’s plays, that Lykouria plans to shoot over the next year. All take place in modern-day London. The next is Denmark; yes, the story of our brooding Hamlet. Casting begins soon.
If after seeing this, you long for more Romeo and Juliet, the internet abounds with other choices such as Leonardo DiCaprio’s modern portrayal of Romeo to director Franco Zeffirelli’s classic film about the forbidden love, but for something a little different check out DNA India, an Internet news site that lists its favorite Shakespeare-inspired Bollywood films—all about the star-crossed lovers including Bobby, Sanam Teri Kasam, and Love Story.
Like cotton candy at a fair sometimes goofy shorts can’t be resisted. My final recommendation to celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday is Action Bill on Vimeo. This stop-action LEGO-animation pits two Bills—William Shatner and William Shakespeare—against each other. Shatner, in a time-machine robot, travels to the 1600s to TAKE the Bard out. Will he succeed, saving generations of school boys and girls from their lofty studies? Tune in!
This weekly column publishes each Monday and covers books, films, recordings, web content, videos, video games, radio, television, and all emerging mediums. Send all press releases and comments to Associate Editor for Multimedia, Deborah Voorhees at email@example.com.