The Appalachian Shakespeare Center at Eastern Kentucky University premiered a feature length puppet film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night on April 23. The showing marks one of the first live audience events at the EKU Center for the Arts in over a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Appalachian Shakespeare Center, also known as AppShakes, decided to film a puppet show in light of COVID-19 restrictions preventing their usual live show performances. AppShakes was forced to cancel all events for the year 2020, including their annual Loose Cannon Festival. To fill the time, the team decided to present a digital production that would be safe to produce and show to audiences.
“This was a great project for something to focus my energy towards that wasn’t COVID,” said AppShakes production manager and company member Paige Adams in a Q&A session after the showing.
The production was a learning experience for the team, differing greatly from their usual live shows. Lines were recorded by separate members of the cast, each one in a separate location.
The team used a homemade portable “sound booth” crafted by Evan Dalton, cinematographer and editor of the production. The sound booth was made out of a Tupperware container that was lined with foam to suppress noise and muffle as much background noise as possible.
Only after the dubbing was completed were the actual puppets put to use. The entire project was a learning experience for a team that was not accustomed to the processes of cinematography and video editing.
“The process was totally new to us,” said Adams.
The pandemic has effectively stopped live shows across the nation, with many acting communities having to rely on online showings to generate revenue, with varied success. Competition with online streaming services and an increasingly screen-fatigued populace make for significant barriers for a medium that traditionally appeals to live audiences.
Many theaters across the country, including the historic Kentucky Theatre in Lexington, have been forced to close their doors entirely, with only uncertain and tentative opening dates of “late summer” announced.
According to director Matthew Johnson, the production took the team about three weeks to plan, with the puppet stage and the puppets themselves taking about two months to design and assemble.
A small audience attended the show, with many seats inaccessible due to COVID restrictions. Tickets were exclusively sold online with no sales being made at the ticket counter. Temperatures were checked at the door, and guests were asked to wear masks and remain socially distant.
Ben Livingston, a student at Berea College, attended to see the performance of one of his friends. He states that this is a good time for theaters to open back up to the public.
“I think that the way this was done, masked and distanced, I think this felt appropriate, safe, and comfy,” Livingston said.
With COVID-19 vaccines becoming more accessible than ever, the AppShakes team is optimistic about being able to return to live productions in the near future. Indeed, Johnson said that the team is already planning a new show for this summer to be performed in The Ravine at EKU as well as reviving AppShakes’ Loose Canon Project in preparation for the April 2022 festival.
More information on the Appalachian Shakespeare Centre and itsLoose Canon Project can be found at https://www.ekutheatre.com/.