The Show Must Go Online: “It’s a real community that uplifts and supports each other”

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I may be woefully behind on my show write-ups (thanks, day job!), but I couldn’t not mark The Show Must Go Online coming to an end – at least until further notice. It’s also Love Theatre Day today, so it would have been remiss of me not to do something in honour of that; just because buildings have closed doesn’t mean theatre has gone – for me (thanks to TSMGO) theatre has been ever-present throughout 2020. Your move, ALW!

It’s going to be really strange not having this to look forward to every Wednesday night. When the project began I remember making a mental note not to make Wednesday plans for later in the year, thinking that things would be on their way back to being more normal towards the latter end of the run – even I didn’t think the Tories could fuck up every single, miniscule detail of dealing with this pandemic. I was obviously feeling in a generous mood when I had that particular thought… Anyway, this won’t be the very end of TSMGO (catch up with my BroadwayWorld UK interview with Rob for further hints), so at least we groundlings will all have future shows to look forward to.

In the meantime, I have once again called upon some of the amazing alumni who have performed in multiple productions across the First Folio run: Maryam Grace (Henry VI part one, Richard III, Hamlet, Macbeth), Jeff King (Troilus and Cressida, All’s Well That Ends Well, Henry VIII), Ally Poole (The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Henry VI part two, The Merry Wives of Windsor, All’s Well That Ends Well, Antony & Cleopatra, Henry VIII) & Alex Landlau (Othello, King Lear).

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Clockwise, from top left: Maryam Grace, Ally Poole, Jeff King, Alex Andlau

What drew you to the project in the first place?

MG: To be completely honest, when I first applied I didn’t really know much about it! Lockdown had just started, I’d recently landed back home from Australia so I was super jetlagged and confused by the whole situation, and to be honest, I was feeling quite disillusioned with the industry at the time. I felt like it was getting quite cliquey and competitive, and I was considering taking a break from acting. Then a friend shared the link to sign up for Henry VI, part one and I just thought, “I love Shakespeare, I’ve never done this play, and what the hell is online theatre?” I think I was more intrigued than anything, as I couldn’t imagine how on earth it would all work. I was quite surprised that I got cast (and still wasn’t quite sure what I’d signed up for!) and then watched a bit of The Two Gentlemen of Verona and The Taming of The Shrew and was hooked!

JK: Definitely the innovation and creativity, I think they’ve really captured the magic of live theatre in this new medium.

AP: Right before the first lockdown I had moved back home to the US after living in London for two years. Like so many people in our industry, I had work cancelled through 2021 and I was really struggling with not knowing what to do with myself, or how to find work, or just trying to find something that felt good and semi-normal. So when I stumbled across Rob’s tweet looking for actors to do a Zoom reading of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, I thought, “Finally! Someone is making some theatre happen!” The Show Must Go Online happened at just the right moment for so many people and I am so grateful to have been involved in that first production.

AL: I specialised in Shakespeare when I did my MA in acting, so any opportunity I get to perform his works, I take it; especially in such wild times as these that we’re in. An actor friend of mine called Honey Gabriel had also appeared in a stream prior to mine and I loved how diverse the company was. I hoped they’d be mad enough to have me and, thankfully, they were!

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Which was your favourite role to play?

MG: Definitely Macbeth! He is my all-time favourite Shakespeare character, and I never in a million years thought I’d get to play him. To be honest, he’s probably my favourite role I’ve ever played, online or otherwise! I just had so much fun with the role; Rob is a brilliant director as he has this incredible ability to let you run wild as an actor with your ideas, but will also suggest perfect golden nuggets of insight that completely change the way you think. It’s always amazing to play a villain, and Macbeth has such beautiful language whilst also being horrendously violent. I think essentially he’s just a relentlessly passionate character of many extremes, and it was incredibly freeing to go to those places. The cast were so inspiring to play with and we all bounced off each other really well. It felt like we were all creating something very special together.

JK: Probably Lavatch in All’s Well That Ends Well; gotta love Shakespeare’s irreverent clowns.

AP: Anne Bullen has been my favorite role and it’s also the most special because it was the last role I played in this First Folio season. Anne is obviously such an iconic figure in history and I really enjoyed getting to put my own spin on her. Also, playing someone who eventually becomes queen and getting to wear strings of pearls and gowns? A dream!

AL: Easily my favourite was Desdemona. I was deliriously happy when I was cast in the role, as I thought I’d never get the chance to play her. Due to my physical build and accent, I’m frequently overlooked for the ingenue or more ‘innocent’ leading female roles, so I thought I wouldn’t have a chance in hell of getting to play her. But the casting department with TSMGO was completely for casting against type, and I had the time of my life turning any of the audience’s expectations of Desi being subservient or passive on their heads. Rob was an absolute gem in guiding me through a type of character that I would normally not have had the chance to have a go at and was open enough to listen to any ideas I brought to the table. The fight choreography and even the death scene were also an absolute blast to work on. And I might be biased here, but I think the production of Othello as a whole is one of the finest achievements of the entire series.

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Have there been any unexpected bonuses of being a part of TSMGO?

MG: So many! I think the most surprising has been the wonderful family aspect of TSMGO. I genuinely feel that I’ve made friends for life with people from all over the world, even though we haven’t met face to face before! And that’s not just with fellow performers and creative teams, but also with fellow groundlings as we all chat whilst watching the show every Wednesday. In the midst of a pandemic, I feel like I’ve met my tribe, and I can’t wait to give them all a big squeeze when we can finally meet in person! I think it’s also made me rediscover why I love our industry so much-the sense of community, playfulness, and pure joy when you’re creating something as part of an ensemble which can never quite be recreated again in the same way.

JK: Without a doubt the incredible actors I’ve had the opportunity to work with. I’m a huge fan of the Reduced Shakespeare Company, so to work with Austin Tichenor on Troilus and Cressida was a really cool experience for me.

AP: Now having a global network of artists that I otherwise would have never met has been the biggest bonus to being a part of TSMGO. And it’s not just a network, it’s a real community that uplifts and supports each other and that is something that I never anticipated from this experience. It’s actually really wild having worked with so many people that I have never met in person so I am so excited for the day when I can meet some of my castmates in person, have a beer, shake their hand or give them a big ole hug. Cannot wait!

AL: The most unlikely bonus has been the bonds I’ve been able to make with my fellow actors and creatives across the world! I’ve grown particularly close to one Dominic Brewer, who played Iago in Othello. We talk at least once and week and we keep each other (reasonably) sane. I love the guy. Even if he was the mastermind behind my untimely death. The git.

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Looking back through the cycle, are there any plays you wish you could have been a part of?

MG: I feel very lucky in that I got to play my dream role in Macbeth, and also got to be in a version of my favourite film when we did Get Thee Back to the Future!. I really have been grateful for every TSMGO I’ve been a part of, and I can’t ask for any more! That said, I would happily have been in all of them 🙂

JK: Well, Julius Caesar is my favourite so probably that one, although really I’m insanely grateful that I got to be involved in the project at all.

AP: All the casts are absolutely brilliant and I have loved watching each show this season! If I had to pick one to be a part of; I would choose one of Ian Doescher’s Pop Shakespeare productions. That fusion of pop culture and Shakespeare is just incredible and I think it would be so much fun to have performed in those shows!

AL: The all-female Macbeth. I was at the after party for King Lear and I was so engrossed in everyone telling each other stories that I didn’t realise it was after 12am and I’d missed the application deadline. I was GUTTED. What a cast that was. Love me some Macbeth too.

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The Show Must Go Online runs every Wednesday at 7pm and is also available to watch afterwards. Become a Patron at The Show Must Go Online’s Patreon page. The Show Must Go Online merchandise is available from Redbubble.

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