Loyola Marymount University’s popular Shakespeare on the Bluff summer festival will return for a third season with live performances on YouTube of “All’s Well That End’s Well” on June 19, 2020, and “The Two Noble Kinsmen” on July 17.
The show must go on, the organizers determined, even as the COVID-19 pandemic prevents the cast from performing in-person before an outdoor crowd.
This summer, Shakespeare on the Bluff festival-goers will trade lawn chairs and picnic blankets for a comfortable spot at home in front of their computer screens. They’ll watch via YouTube Live as a company of 27 actors and actresses and seven technicians – LMU students and alumni from the Class of 2004 to the Class of 2023 – give live, online performances from across the country.
“When I put out the call to work on this project, people came out of the woodwork, including alumni,” said Artistic Director Kevin Wetmore, professor of theatre arts within LMU’s College of Communication and Fine Arts. “They said, ‘my shows have been canceled, there are no auditions. I’m an artist and I want to share my art, even if it’s online.’
“So, the limitations of the pandemic have actually created an opportunity to work with and showcase incredibly inventive and talented actors.”
The virtual festival was conceptualized by LMU CFA Dean Bryant Keith Alexander, who brought the idea to Wetmore about two months ago. With the support of LMU leadership and help from Information Technology Services, the third season of Shakespeare on the Bluff quickly began to take shape.
“The plays were handpicked for this current historical moment,” Alexander said. “Both needed light-heartedness (from the previously projected summer season) with some mixture of fairy tale and a cynical realism that invites us to reflect on virtues and vices of people and the times; always locating ourselves in the social realities of the plays that are both make believe and make belief.”
This year’s festival has been nicknamed “Shakespeare in a Box,” rather than Shakespeare on the Bluff, given that scenes are rehearsed via Zoom, and take place within the confines of a computer screen. But Wetmore is quick to say that performing this way “is not a limitation.”
“This is a chance to be playful and creative,” he said. “We encouraged the cast to use whatever they’ve got at home as props, knowing the styles will mix and match.”
Zoom provides opportunities for some special effects, he added, such as using display names to announce characters, and allowing some performers to sit farther away from their screens, appearing as if they are in the distance.
“All’s Well That End’s Well” and “The Two Noble Kinsmen” were also selected because the stories work online. And, because they are lesser-known Shakespeare plays, most viewers won’t watch with built-in expectations, Wetmore said.
“They’re fun and they’re funny, and you probably haven’t seen them before,” he added. “This is a labor of love from the entire LMU theatre arts community.”
“All’s Well That Ends Well”
June 19 at 8 p.m. PDT
In Shakespeare’s play of poor choices and toxic masculinity, Helen has loved Bertram from afar for years. When she cures the King of France of his illness, he promises the hand of any man in the kingdom for her husband and she chooses Bertram, who promptly flees to Italy to fight in the wars, promising never to see her until she can show him a child of theirs. She promptly sets in motion a series of events to help her do just that. Humor, heartbreak, and scheming abound, but as the title suggests, all is truly well if it ends well.
“The Two Noble Kinsmen”
July 17 at 8 p.m. PDT
Shakespeare’s last play, written with John Fletcher, who replaced him as the resident playwright of the King’s Men, is based on a story from Chaucer. Theseus, the king of Athens, at the request of three queens whose husbands have been killed and remain unburied at the order of the wicked King Creon of Thebes, invades that city and conquers it. Cousins Palamon and Arcite, the two noblest warriors in Thebes, are taken prisoner. Both fall in love with Theseus’ sister-in-law Emelia and escape prison to pursue her, while their jailer’s daughter has fallen madly in love with Palamon – literally. She goes crazy when he does not return her love. Shakespeare’s final play concerns friendship and the pain of unrequited love, resolving these doomed relationships in an unexpected yet oddly satisfying way.