There are 15 buttons hand-stitched onto Romeo’s jacket. Lady Capulet wears bulbous pearl rings on both ring fingers. And during the masquerade ball where Juliet meets Romeo, off her ears dangle a pair of teardrop earrings that she never puts on again throughout the play.
This is the level of detail most theatregoers would almost certainly never notice at a Stratford Theatre production, but that will be visible in full HD on March 3, when the company’s 2017 production of Romeo and Juliet screens in 67 Cineplex theatres nationwide.
And it’s those kinds of details that lead actress Sara Farb, who played Juliet, hopes audiences will notice when watching it on the big screen.
“It’s a great opportunity to get up close to the artistry beyond the acting – the details of the costumes, the set design, the lighting,” Farb told The CJN.
Stratford’s production ran for 53 performances in the 2017 season, but only one was filmed: a full-house matinee packed with students bussed in from nearby high schools. The show’s director, Scott Wentworth, worked with theatre and film director Barry Avrich, who co-ordinated several cameras to quietly capture the show in a way fit for cinemas.
This is the ninth Shakespeare production Stratford has filmed as part of their endeavour to capture Shakespeare’s entire canon on video by 2025. The project began with 2014’s King Lear, which hit screens in 2015.
So far, there have been roughly 427,000 screenings of the Canadian project internationally, according to Amy White, Stratford’s publicity co-ordinator, which includes not just Cineplex screenings but also CBC showings, online streams and international events. The filmed versions are also packaged as educational multimedia tools for teachers.
With the added pressure of knowing tens of thousands more people will be watching their performance, for the actors, the vibe was unmistakably different. Farb said she and her castmates were more self-aware than usual – and not just because of their individual microphones.
“As much as you try to keep it normal, it’s obvious you’re being filmed,” she said. “There’s a certain self-consciousness when you know what you’re doing is being captured for posterity.”
With the stakes raised, the cast and crew were hoping for a good audience. Fortunately, the mostly youthful crowd seemed to love it – in the video, most of the show’s jokes not only land, but are met by an eruption of laughter. Farb noted that students are usually the most responsive in the audience, since they’re often surprised by how much they actually enjoy something they might have been bored by when presented as plain text in English class.
And yet, this crowd for Romeo and Juliet in particular was even louder than usual. “I do remember the audience being particularly vocal,” Farb recalled. “I think the excitement was getting to them about what they were involved in.”
She says that the cast was taken aback in those moments, surprised by the size of reactions to certain gags or lines. And while she doesn’t think her surprise shows on camera, when she’s watching herself on the big screen this weekend, she’ll be be looking for those moments.
Farb will join her Romeo, Antoine Yared, along with other cast and crew at the Yonge and Eglinton Cineplex in Toronto on March 3, and the pair will stick around afterward for a Q&A with the audience. She hopes the event will attract anyone interested in theatre, including young actors who might have missed the show itself.
“With Shakespeare, you see overcompensation because a performer doesn’t understand what they’re saying,” she said. But with this production, “we can see that Shakespeare doesn’t have to be broad. I don’t believe that our production is that kind of Shakespeare – it’s a beautiful, nuanced representation of what the spirit is capable of onstage.”