Actors rarely perform without first getting hired by film or stage directors and producers, so New York actors Liza de Weerd and Brian Weiss decided to bypass these gatekeepers and create their very own This Week in Shakespeare.
Weekly, in the wee hours of the morning, they race to get to Shakespeare’s statue before Central Park becomes too crowded. By 8 a.m. the place is packed. Armed with only their Iphone to record audio and video, Liza and Brian perform two to three minute shorts from Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets to be shared on YouTube. The idea came about after a friend of Brian’s wanted to see him perform, so Brian digitally record himself performing next to Shakespeare’s statue. Brian’s love of performance and language and his desire to be creative pushed him to ask Liza, a long-time colleague and friend, to join him in what has become a nearly yearlong pursuit. Liza loved the idea and committed to create a new Shakespeare bit each week with Brian. Sometimes they perform opposite each other, and sometimes one will do a monologue and the other one films it.
Liza and Brian have known each other for 10 years and have worked on several shows together. They met while performing in Lee Blessing’s play Two Rooms. The two also played multiple roles in the hit stage production of Pulp Shakespeare, which debuted at the LA Fringe Festival. “We have that short hand together; we know how each other works. That trust is there.”
“The week sneaks up on us very quickly,” says Liza. “There’s a lot to memorize.” At first, they performed their favorites, but by week 5th or 6th they had to start searching for works. The work is divided among them fairly equally. Liza picks out the snippets from the plays that the two will perform, and they trade off on picking the sonnets. Brian edits their work, and they promote it on Tweeter, Facebook, and YouTube to keep them publicly accountable. Without that, it “would be too easy to sluff off,” she says.
Their performance conditions are very much like those Shakespeare endured, they say. They shoot in natural lighting and often encounter unexpected participation. Rarely has anyone actually stopped their performance to inquire about what they are doing, after all, “This is New York. People are used to seeing people do all kinds of crazy things,” says Liza. But “we have had tourists stop to take a photo next to us as we were performing a heated monologue_” all while exclaiming, “Look, they’re performing Shakespeare in front of Shakespeare’s statue.”
Their performances are most likely to be interrupted by snow blowers, lawnmowers, wood chippers, ambulances, sprinklers, planes, helicopters, sirens, and one time a dog. Liza was only three lines from the finish of Imogene’s monologue from Cymbeline, when a “Saint Bernard dropped his huge head in my lap,” says Liza. “We both just burst out laughing, which is why people say never work with animals or children.”
The two fight seasonal elements such as pouring rain, freezing temperatures, and sticky summer humidity and 100 degree heat. “It’s a great lesson in learning to deal with all these external elements.” Both have done outdoor Shakespeare in “uncontrolled environments,” says Brian. “It’s like that.”
Their adventures, albeit unintentionally, have been a yearlong diary of Central Park: summer, fall, winter, and now onto spring. Episode 10 is a rather comical diary entry: a time lapse of Shakespeare’s statue getting a bath. “No one can get near it for three hour…That’s the ultimate example of the park being out of control,” says Brian.
One of the most challenging pieces that they have done is an argument between Richard and Lady Anne. “We did that all in one continuous shot,” says Liza. They had to work on the timing several times because they walk through the whole 2.5-minute piece, which was meant to end at the statue. Usually, Liza and Brian film the pieces themselves, but this time their friend Daniel P. Walters shot it for them, all while walking backward and holding Liza’s purse.
The first installment of This Week in Shakespeare features Brian performing Hamlet’s advice to the actors. Essentially, Hamlet implores the actors to be natural, not too dull and monotone nor to over act and “saw the air.” “O, it offends me to the soul to hear a robustious periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters, to very rags, to split the ears of the groundlings.”
Opening with this piece, possibly intentionally, serves as a “How-to-Guide” for Liza and Brian’s quest to perform Shakespeare, and it seems to be working. The two have the single quality I value most in actors: They are natural: chilling as Lady Macbeth and Macbeth, comical as Parolles and Helena, and spunky as Kate and Petruchio. They do not elevate Shakespeare’s language into something haughty and unrealistic, but bring it down-to-earth as man speaks daily, making it easy to comprehend.
In real life, both are successful actors. Liza played the creepy reoccurring character Angela on FOX’s The Following and has also performed on Happy Feet Two, Sibling Rivalry, and Black Book. Brian has appeared in numerous commercials for Toyoto, Federal Express, Taco Bell, Samsung and BMW. For the latter, he spent a week in Germany and had plenty of time to drink beer, eat food and pedal around on a bike.
After Liza’s role on The Following, where she played a cult member who stabs a woman in a ritual killing, she jests that she became “uninvited to dinner parties.” And understandably so, she is creepy and scary in those episodes. “I work in a bunch of different medias as most actors,” she says. “I cobble together a living the way most middle-class actors do. There is a misconception that if you’re not famous you’re not successful, but I do make my living as an actor: TV, voice overs, and theater. It is very courageous to be an actor.” Brian’s long-term dream is to direct. “I have directed a couple short films to see the other side. I love working with a director or writer that has done acting.”
Originally, the two decided to create 52 episodes (as of this writing they were at 48), but now they have decided to create a snippet from each play in the canon. Liza says they are VERY close, but doesn’t say the exact number left to go.