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As America’s theater companies start to grapple with the myriad problems of life in the shadow of the coronavirus, streaming video looms increasingly large in their planning….
No company is streaming more new shows than Virginia’s American Shakespeare Center, whose home, Blackfriars Playhouse, is an impeccable re-creation of the wood-and-plaster interior of a 300-seat theater built in London in 1596, housed in a modern architectural shell. Actors and audience alike are illuminated by the same electric chandeliers (there are no spotlights) and the shows are at once true to Elizabethan open-stage performance practice (no sets, no scene breaks) and eclectically contemporary in visual style. No sooner did the company close its doors than it quickly converted the playhouse into a homemade soundstage and taped every show in its current repertory. Five of them are now viewable online, with more to come.
To date I’ve watched “Much Ado About Nothing” and both installments of “Henry IV,” all of which are part of ASC’s “Actors’ Renaissance” series, which takes Elizabethan-style authenticity a radical step further. These productions, as was the case in Shakespeare’s day, have no director: Instead, they’re staged by the actors themselves. The no-frills three-camera shoots, like the stagings, are wholly to the point, and while the results are all of a piece with ASC’s fast-moving house style, it’s still thrilling to see the (mostly) youthful, colorfully costumed casts do things their way….
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The trailer for this year’s ASC “Actors’ Renaissance” series: