How do we define greatness in our modern culture?
What would it be like if Shakespeare had not existed until now?
Who is William Shakespeare?
These are the questions posed by Blank Verse, the new webseries produced by the theatre and film graduates of the University of British Columbia.
Focusing on the famous works of William Shakespeare, Chris Marlowe, Ben Jonson and Thomas Kyd, Blank Verse reworks the historical and cultural events of the Elizabethan era, sets them into the contemporary context and re-imagines the writers as modern day university students.
The webseries features a team of rising stars from across Canada, and established voices in the Vancouver Theatre Community. All are introduced in The Prologue, a short promotional episode on www.blankverse.tv.
“This ambitious project draws attention to the struggle of artists in our contemporary world and examines our place within the cultural atmosphere of the past 500 years; all while letting a group of theatre nerds play within the life of, arguably, the best writer of all time,” says executive producer Amanda Konkin.
Set to premiere on August 25, the weekly webseries will air every Sunday until December 29 on www.blankverse.tv
Interview with Blank Verse executive producer Amanda Konkin
N: What inspired the idea to rework the Shakespearean spirit into a modern-day webseries?
AK: There is a webseries called The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, created by Hank Green and Bernie Su, that tells the story of Pride and Prejudice through a series of blogs and online media. I was really inspired by the potential this series presented in its ability to re-imagine classic works using the technology and cultural climate of today’s world while highlighting the universality of great storytelling.
Since I have a background in theatre and digital media studies, creating Blank Verse seemed like a logical way to introduce some of the lesser known aspects of the greatest thespian of all time to new audiences. We get to play with Shakespeare’s life while having an amazing time inventing a rich and vibrant world to contextualize this great writer’s work.
(Also, I casually mentioned the idea to one of our Associate Producers before leaving on vacation for a week, and by the time I returned half of the creative team was in place and I was told we needed to make this project happen-it just grew from there.)
N: The Prologue promises a swift pace, quick-witted dialogues and casual humor, as well as creative use of post-production effects. Are the viewers to expect the same in the series?
AK: We hope that there is a level of consistency throughout all of the episodes, and we have set a very solid foundation for the tone of the series with our prologue. We have a core creative team that keeps the pacing and look of the show quite similar throughout the season, and although we have different writers on board for each Act, we are really working hard to maintain character progression as well as plot development throughout the show. We are all witty, critical, and ambitious Gen-Y’s and we will strive for a level of quality we have come to expect from our entertainment.
N: How much rehearsing is behind The Prologue, which consists of a single long shot?
AK: The prologue was an interesting endeavour. Our cinematographer, Charlie Allison, had the amazing idea to shoot everything in a one-shot and I thought that it fit the tone of the episode quite well. We wanted a look at the chaotic, fast-paced world in which our Shakespeare lives, and so I think the format works quite well to accomplish that. A lot of the people on board for this project have a theatre background, so doing things in one-take is not a new concept. When you are on stage there is no director to yell cut – you just have to keep going. That being said we had a lot of prep time with the crew before filming and spent more than half of the shooting day just working on rehearsal with the core actors.
N: Can you introduce the team of actors, some of whom are professors and respected authorities in their field?
AK: We held auditions in early spring and did our best to find the strongest personalities we could to fill out the cast. We were always looking to bring Deb Pickman on board as our Liz as many of us had experience with her at UBC Theatre, but our wildcard for the show would be Dr. Errol Durbach. Dr. Durbach is an established figure in the Vancouver theatre community and has always demonstrated an amazing support for emerging artists. He did not hesitate to come on board when he heard we were looking for our Essex, and it has been such a pleasure to work with him (audiences are in for a real treat during episode three, when we see the ramifications of Liz Tudor usurping his lecture hall!)
N: You have put together an ambitious multi-departmental project. What did you learn in the process?
AK: We have people involved from all around Vancouver and from various campuses across the city who have all spent years establishing themselves in the local community and have found like-minded artists that love what they do and do it well. I was reluctant at the start of the project to bring so many people on board, but our production manager, who has many years of experience working on independent web projects, was adamant that we find a strong team and utilize the amazing abilities that emerging artists in this city have to offer. If I have taken one thing away from this project, it is to make art with amazing people, and to make sure you give people agency over their product. Everyone on board has a very specific role and takes pride in what they are doing.
N: What advice would you give to students with a similar creative ambition?
AK: My advice would be to cover all of your bases and remember that every role in the project makes a huge difference in the end. (Also, be prepared to make lots of sandwiches and multi-task like crazy when you have to fill in for crafty on a long shoot day).
N: What are your (and the production team’s) future creative plans?
AK: I hope that the future for Blank Verse is a bright one. We have the potential to make five seasons with the show and after we complete season one this December we will look for support to continue to tell this amazing story. We are all establishing ourselves in our chosen career paths, and we hope that this series will lay a strong foundation for us to step forward and continue to produce great things. We want to keep making art.
Amanda Konkin has a Master’s degree from the University of British Columbia with a focus on the use of interactive online media in live theatre. She has been working in British Columbia’s theatre community for over a decade, and currently works as a drama teacher, box office attendant, and associate producer/publicist for three different companies around Vancouver (in addition to her role as the Executive Producer for Blank Verse). If being a theatre nerd wasn’t enough, she is also a huge sci-fi geek and often talks about geeky things as a producer/host for 4geeksmedia (the company she co-founded in 2012) and as a co-host for Quiver: the Green Arrow podcast, available on iTunes.