Virtual Shakespeare is better than none at all.
So contends Ryan Kniel, who has spent the summer months immersed in a very different world of theatre.
The Surrey-raised actor, 20, both learned and educated others about Shakespeare as part of a program involving Vancouver’s Bard on the Beach festival.
Kniel was among 12 young actors from across Canada selected for funding from the RBC Emerging Artists Project. It included a spot in a program called Riotous Youth, a paid internship with the Bard festival, which was cancelled for 2020 due to COVID-19.
This summer’s pandemic-triggered shift gave Kniel the unique opportunity to bring the Bard’s words to life in a virtual setting.
Live-screen recordings of Zoom meetings were used as a “stage,” allowing actors to alternate appearing on the screen, replicating a classical theatre format. And with the interns at home, a lot of the typical elements of theatre – including sound, lighting, props and costumes – had to be created with whatever was around the house.
“I had some misgivings at the initial concept of online camps, but with collaboration on everyone’s part to find creative solutions to problems, it really turned out wonderfully,” says Kniel, a Southridge School grad.
“Learning how to film on Zoom, how to collaborate as an ensemble in an online environment and how to communicate with scene members that you don’t see in a physical rehearsal are all important skills in this new world of theatre.”
The program also saw Kniel get involved in Bard on the Beach’s ‘Young Shakespeareans’ summer camps.
“A highlight for me was definitely the virtual Midsummer Night’s Dream workshops I helped run for kids interested in Shakespeare,” Kniel recalled. “On the last day, the parents of the kids in our camp joined a Zoom call to watch what scenes the kids had been working on all week, and everyone dressed up as their character with makeshift costumes that they found around their house. It was a perfect finale to the work that we had done, and it was such an uplifting experience to have an accessible way to share a creation with important people during an uncertain time.”
Back in 2017 at Southridge, Kniel played a role in a school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Today, Kniel is entering his third year in the University of Victoria’s Theatre Performance program.
His summer with Bard on the Beach brought his love of Shakespeare full-circle.
“My first exposure to Shakespeare came when I was nine, when my family (took) us to see A Comedy of Errors at Bard on the Beach,” said Kniel. “We were lucky enough to get tickets for the front row. Out of nowhere, one of the lead actors came off of the stage and sat right next to me to take a breather from the action. It was like a movie star had leapt out of the screen. It was the first time I truly experienced the magic of live theatrical performance, and I still look back on it as a major personal inspiration in my pursuit of theatre education and experience.”
The other Riotous Youth program participants are Valeria Ascolese, Sunshine O’Donovan, Joelle Wyminga, Sarah Mercier, Danny Saretksy, Sara Gargaro, Alissa Grams, Mikenzie Page, Kaila Kondo and Reese Cowley. Their bios, along with Kniel’s, are posted to bardonthebeach.org/education/meet-the-riotous-youth.
Looking ahead, the plans are for Bard on the Beach’s 2021 season to include plays the company had programmed for its cancelled 2020 festival: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Henry V, Love’s Labour’s Lost and Paradise Lost by Erin Shields. “Each production is based on a unique and original vision and we’re committed to bringing those visions to life next summer,” says a post on bardonthebeach.org/2020-season-cancelled. “We’ll bring you more details about our 2021 programming in the months to come.”