What if William Shakespeare were alive and writing today? For writer/director/producer Deborah Voorhees, this curious question led to a feature length film. Billy Shakespeare – The Movie is an irreverent tale about a modern day Shakespeare. The film trifles with Shakespeare’s sexuality, slings arrows at his misogyny and toys with the term “lack-beard”. Join the fun from inspiration to final cut on the latest episode of The State of Shakespeare.
Deborah Voorhees has a unique relationship with Shakespeare. Neither stage actor, nor English major, nor career academic, she is nevertheless one of a happy few who have read Shakespeare’s complete works from cover-to-cover. “I started with the huge Folio, and I remember sitting down with it in my lap and reading everything he ever wrote.” It took a while to get acclimated to the language. “After about the third play I realized that I was beginning to really understand it without having to struggle as hard,” she laughs.
Ms. Voorhees’ first introduction to Shakespeare as the Arts and Entertainment critic for a Dallas-area newspaper. It was then that she became intrigued with William Shakespeare, the person behind the words. “I was most fascinated with him as an artist… I started volunteering to go to anything Shakespeare-related. The more I saw of him, the more I fell in love with him. ”
Her experiences as an actress in the not-too-cerebral Hollywood of the 1980s led her to wonder whether it would be possible for a talent like Shakespeare’s to emerge in today’s show business, and how his work might be received.
Surely, she concluded, his lack of “political correctness” would have been an issue. What to make of his all-male casting? His apparent misogyny? His use of the phrase “lack-beard” as a derogatory term? From these initial musings, a story and film script began to take form.
Set in present-day Hollywood, the story centers around a young playwright, William “Billy Shakespeare, and his struggles to get a break, strike a balance between work and love and grapple with the nagging question of whether his plays can be understood. The film features familiar scenes from The Taming of the Shrew, Macbeth, and Romeo and Juliet (the thought of modernizing those plays was “just too funny to pass up” she says) as well as some fresh twists: a pregnant Juliet, Lady Macbeth as a drag queen and a Petruchio with a P.R. problem.
Producing Billy Shakespeare was no small undertaking. Filmed over a period of forty five days in New Mexico, the film cost just over $80,000 to make. “We were extremely small-budget!” she says. As for the challenge of securing financing for a Shakespeare-themed independent film as a first-time filmmaker: “fortunately many people were in it for the love and the excitement of the project. ” Billy Shakespeare (2014, 103 min) is available for streaming on Amazon Instant Video.