The stage may be bare this season at The Illinois Shakespeare Festival, but the show must go on–online, that is.
The ISF is presenting the exclusive video series, “Take Time to Pause” on the organization’s YouTube channel. The title comes from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” naturally enough, because the series features performances of the Bard’s work from cast members of the Shakespeare Festival through the years. In addition, “Take Time to Pause” includes interviews with the actors about the monologues they selected to perform. Festival Artistic Director John Stark is producing the series as a way to reach out to the community after Covid-19 forced the cancellation of the 2020 Festival season
“I’ve invited the actors to select a favorite monologue of Shakespeare and film it in their own home, which is very, very safe to do these days,” Stark explained. “And then they send that to me. We add a few things in terms of editing. And then I follow that up with an interview with them, talking about that selection and what inspired them to select it.”
The series includes actors who have been with the Festival for many seasons, as well as those who have only appeared in recent years. The series kicks off with Kelsey Fisher-Waits, who performs a monologue as Paulina from “A Winter’s Tale.” Fisher-Waits is a faculty member of the Illinois State University School of Theater and appeared in the Festival in 2018 and 2019. Festival favorite Steve Young, a member of the ISF Honor Roll of actors, also is part of the series, said Stark.
“Two years ago, Steve played Falstaff in ''The Merry Wives of Windsor.” He’s been with the Festival six seasons.”
“Another favorite that’s been invited is Tom Quinn. Tom teaches at Illinois Wesleyan University, he’s a grad of Illinois State University, and he’s an Equity actor. He’s been in more seasons than any other actor.”
That's about 14 fourteen seasons for Quinn, give or take, Stark estimated.
Each monologue selected reflects a personal choice of the actor. Stark noted that a number of the female actors he’s invited to participate have chosen to do a monologue from a male character, and that’s in line with the Festival’s approach to casting.
“That’s something that we’ve been doing at the ISF, exploring that changing of gender roles, and I find that very exciting. It’s interesting what they bring to it,” said Stark.
“Take Time to Pause” is literally a home-grown production, so the financial demands of producing are not a big strain on the ISF, he said, adding, “There is some budget involved, but it is a fairly low budget item that we can handle at this time. It keeps us connected with our patrons, our fans of the Illinois Shakespeare Festival in this very odd year that we’re having.”
Stark utilizes Zoom to interview the actors, while the performers video their performances at home, mostly using cell phones.
“Actors are very adept these days at doing self-taping," he said. "This is the new way for actors to share their auditions. And I think that’s something that will become more prevalent in the industry--digital submissions as opposed to live auditions.”
But “Take Time to Pause” has exposed an interesting wrinkle under the high-tech advantages of virtual performing, Stark revealed.
“Some of our actors are Equity actors, and so our patrons will only be able to view (the) interviews and monologues for a certain amount of time, because by the union rules, we can only keep them up for four days,” he said.
“That is something that is also being worked out: under whose jurisdiction are Zoom performances? Is it SAG/AFTRA, which is mostly the film and television industry, or is it Equity, which is the live theater component? Where does this land? So, that is something that is being worked out in the industry.”
“I’ve heard that on the west coast, Equity is saying that it’s SAG/AFTRA’s responsibility there. So, the Equity office there seems to be relinquishing the coverage to SAG/AFTRA. And on the east coast, some are saying that it’s an Equity situation, that’s live performance.”
“And then you start getting into streaming versus recorded. There’s a whole ‘nother level there. What’s important to me is that I found a way to work with Equity to get permission to use Equity actors for a short amount of time. And that’s important because Equity actors are extremely important to this organization. It’s been with us since the '90’s. Those are some of the finest actors from around the country. We’re very excited that they can take part in this.”
While postponing the 2020 season of the Illinois Shakespeare Festival was a difficult thing to do, Stark said producing the video series for YouTube has lifted his spirits by allowing him to reunite with members of the Festival company.
“It’s really fun to see these actors again! When they’re with you for the summer, they become almost like family. Right now, we would have been in the thick of another company, with all that activity around, another family for the summer producing Shakespeare. So, it’s been really great to see these actors. And they are so appreciative. They want to work. That’s a great thing about actors and theater people in general, is that we want to work, we want to share our work, we want to share these stories with you, this art with you. Everyone is very enthusiastic. They’re loving the chance to do something like this and are appreciative to anyone who will tune in and take a look at them."
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