60 Hour Shakespeare…sounds pretty intense right? It’s not quite a case of a Shakespeare-themed lock-in, but it’s still pretty ambitious. The company’s USP is aiming to produce Shakespeare’s works within the rehearsal timeframe available to actors while the bard was alive and well. It all sounds rather unique and intriguing so I was glad to catch up with Producer Charlotte Cline and Director Gavin Leigh to hear more about the adventures of 60 Hour Shakespeare…
60 Hour Shakespeare sounds like one hell of a wild ride for casts and creatives alike – when and how did this adventure begin?
GL – In the summer of 2017 I happened to read a book that describes how different rehearsals are now compared to Elizabethan England. Theatre records tell us that acting companies might have performed as many as 40 productions in a season and lines had to be learnt very differently with cue scripts. I wanted to see what difference this could make to modern rehearsals, which are usually at least six weeks.
CC – I’d always enjoyed the universal appeal of Shakespeare and how it lent itself to so many adaptations, so when Gavin asked me to come on board for an ambitious production of Hamlet in university it was a dream come true. I’d acted previously, but never had the opportunity to assistant direct, which later evolved into a love for producing theatre and costume design. When Gavin came to me with the idea for 60 Hour Shakespeare, while daunting, I knew that we could pull it off and that audiences would love that we were bringing a new approach to the stage.
Are there times when those 60 hour ambitions have you biting nails and tearing hair out?
GL – There are undoubtedly some constraints that come with the rehearsal time, but the upside is all of the instinctive accidents of performance that fall out of that. “To be or not to be”, performed as a monologue to Ophelia, was one of them.
CC – We don’t do things in half measures and have always put on a fully produced performance complete with set and costume which is a hugely ambitious yet rewarding feat. As producers and perfectionists both with full-time jobs, the logistics of casting, marketing, publicising, costuming and rehearsing each production with a limited resources and budget comes with its own set of challenges but it is hugely exciting and feels quite entrepreneurial. One minute I’m sending press releases, the next minute I’m making a paper mache sceptre, the next we’re being interviewed on radio – I often feel like I’m in a theatrical version of The Apprentice!
These challenges were, of course, amplified with lockdown when we decided to bring the performance online and had to work with cast members remotely to create costume and lighting effects. I recall Gavin coordinating the delivery of 3 swords to London, Nottingham and Italy while I did a virtual tutorial on creating medieval head-dresses with a tea towel – I don’t think either of us would have expected to be doing that five years ago.
How would you describe the style and approach of the company overall? Are we looking at loyal, traditional takes on Shakespeare’s work or something more modernised and freely adapted?
GL – The setting for the play comes second to what Shakespeare reveals about character, so our take on the plays has been very different. Much Ado was set around the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Greenham Common protest in 1983. Hamlet was inspired by Holden Caulfield, in The Catcher in the Rye, and Wittenberg University in Ohio. Our latest production, Richard II, was set in 1399 to lean into its history.
CC – We strive to make Shakespeare accessible and engaging to audiences of all backgrounds through creative adaptations for each production. The key thing to our 60-hour performances is the actors themselves are still fresh to the production, so it doesn’t feel over-rehearsed and audiences can really feel that they’re living each interaction, each moment, each plot twist live with the cast as it unfolds. There’s a great vibrancy to each production.
What is it about Shakespeare’s work which inspired you to commit solely producing his plays?
GL – Shakespeare understood what makes us tick. The plays are the universal angst of life writ large.
CC – What Gavin said! Shakespeare was such a wonderful storyteller and managed to capture so many universal experiences and emotions within his cannon – there’s something for everyone in his work.
And you’ve managed to raise an impressive £3,000 for charities to date, choosing a different charity to support each year. How do you make your charity selection each year and which charity/ies are you supporting in this particularly challenging year for the arts?
GL – The charities are small charities for whom the fundraising is a game-changer or ones which have some meaning. No5 Young Person’s Counselling Service is a charity local to our usual performance venue and we partnered with them because of that. Macmillan Cancer Support was our charity for Hamlet because one of my close friends had lost his wife to cancer.
CC – The impact of COVID on the theatre industry has been devastating and as both lovers and producers of theatre ourselves we wanted to do everything within our power to protect it. The UK’s arts and cultural industries contribute £11bn to the economy and support 363,700 jobs. Despite some government support and corporate donations, it’s not nearly enough to support the thousands who give their lives and passion to this industry.
We considered many charities before choosing Acting for Others, a wonderful organisation who provide financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 local member charities. They’ve led fantastic initiatives to support theatre workers who’ve been affected by COVID so it was a perfect fit for Richard II.
To drive awareness for our campaign on YouTube, I had the great honour of interviewing actors, producers and teachers within the field who gave their time to discuss their entry into Shakespeare, how COVID had personally affected their world and why supporting this industry is so crucial.
I definitely encourage you to check them out on our YouTube page, featuring National Theatre and Globe actor, Alex Mugnaioni; Royal Shakespeare Company, Globe and NT actor, Colin Hurley; Royal Shakespeare Company’s Voice and Text Associate, Michael Corbidge and Associate Head of Acting at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Ali de Souza.
Audiences can watch your performances for free which is of course utterly fantastic, but how can they donate if they are in a position to do so?
It’s fantastic to know that the company embraces professional and amateur actors from all over the world – what does the casting and rehearsal process look like and how has COVID-19 impacted upon usual working processes to 60 Hour Shakespeare HQ?
GL – The auditions are now on Zoom, but the content is very similar. I’m always looking for actors who can improvise because of the rehearsal time. Rehearsals on Zoom have remained 60 hours, but I have had to look at ways to help actors to physicalise the text alone. There have been some interesting exercises with balls, knitting, and a house of cards.
The latest production is, of course, Richard II – what prompted you to dive into that particular play at this particular time and what can audiences expect from the 60 Hour Shakespeare rendition?
GL – Richard II is the Shakespeare play with the third-largest number of rhyming lines. It is so lyrical but its use of rhyming verse is to weaponise and deceive. The story makes you sympathise with the King’s enemies but turns full circle to Richard’s revelation as a human being. It is a tragedy and a history play.
CC – While virtual productions via Zoom might seem restrictive with a remote cast performing live from 6 time zones, it actually allows us to be very creative as we find synergies between film and theatre. We are not recording a theatrical production and then streaming it, but instead, leveraging Zoom as its own unique medium.
While for A Midsummer Night’s Dream we played with virtual backgrounds, for Richard II, as our first-period production, we leveraged the cinematic qualities of Zoom’s “speaker view” and natural “candlelight” to create an intimate and captivating performance. The dim and atmospheric setting accompanied by some clever costume illusions and well-sourced props allows the audience to be transported into medieval England without leaving their living rooms.
Now 60 Hour Shakespeare has performed a good range of the bard’s work to date, but do you personally have a Shakespeare favourite you’re eager to take on?
GL – The one play that I really need to wrap my head around is Othello. Iago directs that play and Shakespeare was telling us something about the dark side of understanding one another.
CC – Oooh yes I love Othello! Gavin treated me to a wonderful adaptation by Intermission theatre directed by Darren Raymond set in a boxing gym that I loved. I’m also a big fan of Shakespeare’s more fanciful productions and would love to bring an immersive production of the Tempest to some festivals.
Sounds good to me. And you’ve been doing this great work for the last two years, so what would you say have been the biggest joys and challenges so far?
GL – The biggest joy was creating this with Charlotte. The biggest challenge was directing online.
CC – Absolutely! The biggest joy has been sharing this experience with Gavin and seeing 60 Hour Shakespeare grow from a crazy idea to a full-blown production company. I’ve loved working with such a diverse and talented cast of actors and seeing ourselves grow as theatre producers in the process. The biggest challenge is finding the time to do everything in such an intensive period – there’s so much potential, but there are only 60 hours and we forgot to factor sleep in haha!
And finally, what’s next for you and the company?
GL -In the future, productions might be live-streamed from the venue or online, but our next production is Romeo and Juliet on 31st May 2021.
CC – Yes hopefully you and your readers can make it! Front row seats! To get our Shakespeare fixes in between productions we’re also working our way through Shakespeare’s canon in our weekly “Shakespeare Sessions” on Tuesdays from 19:00-21:00BST on Zoom.
GL – Yes, the Sessions are for anyone. I wanted to get some friends to act out and learn about Shakespeare for a lot of years, like at least two years. Now it’s happening. The Shakespeare Sessions is a group that reads and learns about a different Shakespeare play every fortnight. The way the Sessions happens is easy. Everyone gets a chance to play a part in each scene or you can just listen in. We also have an Open Mic Night for amateur, professional actors, and you to perform a monologue, soliloquy, or duologue from Shakespeare’s playography, or to listen in. You can follow The Shakespeare Sessions here.
CC – Thanks for taking the time to speak to us, we’re a big fan of your blog and feel so privileged to be featured on it.
My pleasure – thank you!