Whether familiar with theater or not, many people know the iconic Shakespeare quote “All the world’s a stage,” but what happens when the world’s stages are closed and moved online? In this episode of Ghost Light, reporter Claire Schnatterbeck chats with members of the King’s Crown Shakespeare Troupe to discuss how they are bringing the iconic works of William Shakespeare to the virtual stage and the implications of using Zoom as a modern Globe Theater.
[Claire Schnatterbeck]: My name is Claire, and welcome back to the Pod-Tone 292 mini-series Ghost Light. During these episodes, I will be sitting down with members of Columbia and Barnard’s vibrant theater community to chat about their experiences creating and keeping theater alive during this past virtual year.
Many people who are familiar with the works of William Shakespeare may also know the famous quote from As You Like It: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” During the past year on Zoom, we have all acted as players and audiences for our classmates and professors.
I have done theater my entire life and rarely considered the audience watching me, but on Zoom, it’s a very different experience. I mean, it’s not very often in life that we have that many eyes on us at one time—except when we are performing on a stage. In a real theater, the audience is often in complete darkness, and even though you cannot see them, you know they are watching. On Zoom, you can look directly into their eyes.
For this episode of Ghost Light, I talked with members of the King’s Crown Shakespeare Troupe about how they’re bringing the iconic works of the Bard to the virtual stage and the implications of using Zoom as a modern Globe Theater.
Thank you all for agreeing to meet with me. I’m excited to talk about Shakespeare. Just to get started, I’d love if you could all introduce yourselves and what your role is in King’s Crown.
[Catherine Ferrante]: My name is Catherine Ferrante. I’m one of the co-presidents this semester, as well as the historian of KCST.
[Grace Clifford]: My name is Grace. I am the technical director for the Shakespeare Troupe. I’ve worked on a lot of shows with KCST in terms of costume design, and I love the Troupe dearly, and I’m happy to talk about it.
[Madeleine Watkins]: I’m Madeleine. I am the CUPAL representative, and also the new member rep on the KCST e-board. I’ve mostly acted with KCST, but I’ve also been dabbling in directing recently.
[Claire]: Awesome. Well, thank you all for joining me. My first question is, for those who maybe aren’t familiar with KCST, how would you describe it?
[Grace]: I would say, in a nutshell, I would describe KCST as Shakespeare with a touch of chaos.
[Claire]: Now, I would argue Shakespeare’s works are no stranger to chaos. It is a trademark of Shakespearian productions to transport the characters and plots into different eras or locations. I imagine the same could be done for virtual performances. Here’s what KCST had to say about it.
[Grace]: Something that we didn’t do this year is that we haven’t done a full-length play. I think we realized that that is something that stretches the limits of adapting Shakespeare, just because the language doesn’t translate very well virtually, and it’s a lot to sit through on Zoom. But what we came up with instead were these short “Shakescenes” festivals, which were based on something that we’d been doing on campus. Essentially, it’s a team of directors who each choose their own scenes and work with actors that we assign to carry those scenes out, and so, I think that having the small, enclosed space of a single scene has led to a lot of really innovative uses of Zoom and really exciting ways to see people continuing to engage with Shakespeare online.
[Madeline]: I love a good spectacle. And, especially, Shakespeare is so dramatic, and everything’s so epic and cosmic in proportion. And that’s why people love it, and people keep returning to it. But when you’re, how can I put this—sitting in your living room, with your parents in the kitchen—trying to figure out how to channel Lady Macbeth for a good Act 2, it’s a different kind of thing, and I feel like we really had to kind of nail down this, “How can we make this super clear?” We’re not in a room. You can’t make an awkward gesture, ‘cause I don’t know, if they’re not on stage, you don’t know who anyone’s talking about. And so it was really just a—battle is too violent language—but it was really just a great work against the text and working against the absence of the rest of the text, I guess. And it was really fun because people were working with all of these digital filters I didn’t know how to use but love to look at. Or we used red lights, and I was in my prom dress. I wasn’t wearing shoes, but you didn’t know that. And it was just like working with the text as it stood, and so, I think it was a really fun challenge. We don’t get UV paint. We don’t get black lights. We don’t get this amazing sound design in such a fun set to play on, but you really did get to lean into the text in a way that you always should, but don’t necessarily have to, for stage Shakespeare. So it really has made us dig deeper into the scene analysis and what it means to structure a scene as a director, with a really audience-driven perspective, because you really have to think, “My ancient father, 700 miles away, has to understand what’s happening.” And so does your sister, and so does my classmates and my roommates I’m forcing to watch my work. So it’s really been a change in perspective on who we’re going toward and the way we work toward that goal, also.
[Catherine]: I remember the first Shakescenes that we did. I’ve been thinking about this for months apparently now. And there was a scene where someone did the opening scene of Antigone, and it was just this really cool Zoom format where the opening scene of Antigone is between Antigone and her sister. And they had it set up that they were on a FaceTime call but they were on their computer calling each other. And that was the main thing, but then they also each had their phone set up on a different part of the room so that you could see their side profiles. So then it was really cool how you could then, like, it made Zoom, very intentional. And I understood it’s meaning to the scene, but then also created this really interesting—like, “What is shown? What is framed? What is communicated?” kind of question—overlaying on top of the text, which I love, how design bolsters texts. I love form and content. I love that intersection. So it was very interesting then, what they were communicating with their faces and to each other versus what only the audience received, as a message of interiority. And then the scene ended with them each closing their computer, but then the scene didn’t end then because then you watched how the two of them processed their conversation together through the lens of the phone. That was extremely well done, and I think about that to this day.
[Madeleine]: I really felt that after the first Shakescenes, and yeah, it was just so much fun to create and to watch and to get those weird nerves where you’re like, “I’m excited,” and then you’re like, “But am I going to puke? No, I’m excited. No, I’m excited.” Just to have that again felt like being a real person, which I feel like the summer-early fall really robbed me up personally. But I know it was also similar for a lot of other people, but it brought back actual theater vibes, even though it wasn’t, and I really, really loved that.
[Claire]: Authentic human interaction is so important, especially in theater. I noticed that you’ve titled some of your Shakescenes this year “All the World’s a Zoom,” “All the Zoom’s a Stage,” “All the Zoom’s a Zoom,” which I personally love that, but do you actually believe that all the Zoom’s the stage? Could you provide some insight into that sentiment?
[Madeline]: In some ways, it’s held true. Zoom is kind of a very performative space, and you have to very intentionally be like, “I am speaking now because I have something to say,” which sometimes is good—not everyone needs to be talking in class. So sometimes it’s deliberate, but in a much more real sense: It’s human; we’re supposed to make mistakes. We’re supposed to just say something without thinking, and we’re supposed to be like, “Oh, I relate to that.” Like, I know, I agree with that. It’s a real preclusion to that kind of little interaction, which is turning out to not be so little. It’s really just like the fodder of how we think through things, which I think is being removed from conversations, academic and otherwise. So I think recognizing that makes it a lot more funny than malicious. So kind of playing off of that, we were like, “We need a funny title,” and normally, they’re spins on Shakespeare quotes. I don’t know how “All the World’s a Zoom” came up, but we were like ‘all the world’s,’ and then we were like, ‘it’s Zoom’ because I’ve been sitting in this house for months and months and months and months and months, but my world was Zoom. And then it just became a bit, and now we’re here.
[Catherine]: I will say yes, I do think Zoom is performative. Yeah, wrought. And there is that—I will admit I have been thinking this whole time—I’m laughing, but I’ve been muted. No one’s going to know that I was laughing, and I don’t like that there’s not going to be overlap. There’s no overlap, which is stressful for me. I guess this is a very broad interpretive question, so I’ll take it down this road: All the world’s—all the Zoom’s—a stage. I’ll go with that one. I would say absolutely not. I would say that theater does not belong on Zoom. I will say that real theater, it’s going to be so good for theaters. It’s going to be when the theater, there’s a stage, and there’s other bodies on the stage, and then there’s bodies and the audience. It’s going to be crazy. It’s going to be so good. Anything that they put on the stage, I’m like, this is going to be good because it’s not Zoom. I’m so excited. I will say that I’ve been thinking a lot about how Zoom is limited like film is, but it is not film, and it is not theater. So it’s very difficult to make things because you don’t have editing like you do with film. And I used to be a film major, and I learned then, day one—I wasn’t a film major for very long—that film is all editing. A lot of meaning comes from editing and from framing and from cropping and the unseen. Right? So then you don’t do that. You don’t do that in Zoom theater; Zoom theater is still live, so you lose that aspect, but then theater is so much about physical-spatial relationships and working in a 3D space. And I would say one of the things I love most about it is that it relies on the concept of relationality, always. There is never just one thing ever because there is fundamentally at least always the stage and the audience, and Zoom really takes away a lot of the tensions and layers of relationality that can be created. So I would say that it fundamentally limits the expanse of a vision. C’est la vie. So I’ll take that one, but I will say fundamentally that all the Zoom is a Zoom.
[Claire]: Thank you for listening to Ghost Light, and thank you to Catherine, Madeleine, and Grace from King’s Crown theater troupe for chatting with me. If you’ve had any theater experiences that have been your “ghost light” during the pandemic, feel free to email me at email@example.com. Tune in next time to hear more stories from the Columbia theater community.
• Produced by Sam Hyman
• Music by Matthew Lucia