Thursday, April 7, 2011

Interview with Pursued by a - (part 1 of 3)

One of our goals at Playing With Plays, Shakespeare for Kids, is to get educators great resources for engaging their kids with Shakespeare. I recently had the privilege to meet and work with another Shakespeare group called, Pursued by a Bear. Their main goal is to make Shakespeare interesting and fun (NOT BORING) via video. Audience: Teens and adults.

Teachers, this really is a wonderful place to connect your highschoolers to the Bard. The important piece here... HAVE FUN!

One of the main drivers of and their overall concept is Sharky:

Tell me a little something about who you are and what you do.

I'm the Founder and House musician of I also run a Shakespeare database ( ) which has all of Shakespeare's plays and sonnets.

What’s your background with Shakespeare?

Where I'm from, we didn't really study Shakespeare, so I picked it up on my own. Eventually, I was tasked as the fight choreographer for a production of Romeo and Juliet, and ended up playing Romeo. To date, it's the only Shakespeare production I've been involved with.

Hey, you also do fight choreography? How did you start doing that?

I've been doing Fight Choreography since I was a high school sophomore (initially, because no one else wanted to do it), and most of what I apply are what I saw in Martial Arts and Swashbuckler movies, observing what looks good on camera and putting my own spin on the fight sequence.

Any quick advice that you want to give on doing fight choreography?

Pretty basic pointer would be to start slow until the actors get the rhythm down, and remind them that they're not really supposed to be trying to hurt each other, but to look cool (which is why you often see excessively slow, wide swings to simulate force when a character is carrying a "heavy sword.") Also, for whoever is directing, make sure that the walls on either side of the stage are a completely different color than whichever weapons are being used. This allows the actors to see the weapons in motion better, thus allowing them to avoid injury by being able to duck out of the way should the other actor make a movement error. I used this concept during the Romeo and Juliet production I was in, since both actors were using thin fencing foils, and I wanted them to see where the blades were at all times.

What was the reason that started you doing Shakespeare videos?

I saw The RSC's production of Hamlet starring David Tennant and Patrick Stewart, and it looked very alive and very modern (despite using the classical language) and I thought more people should know about it, especially people who hated Shakespeare during High School archaic.

How long have you been doing Shakespeare-related productions?

Besides Romeo and Juiet, nothing until Pursued By A Bear. I did talk about Shakespeare and aspects of his plays with various people, but no real, direct involvement. I am far more active now than I was back then.

Why Pursued By a Bear?

It's from “The Winter's Tale” Act III.3, and I would really like to see how the original actors reacted to see that stage direction on their scripts. It was a really funny mental image to me, so I decided to use that for the site's name.

Why Sharky?

It's a nickname I chose for myself, because Sharks are cool. Specifically, Mako Sharks, but Hammerheads are pretty neat as well.

Was it intimidating at all to approach Shakespeare through this type of format?

I didn't find it intimidating at all, since my original plan was to take a look at Hamlet from the perspective of a Film Major. However, once Cassius was onboard to present it side-by-side as a Shakespeare adaptation, any small doubts that may have existed were immediately extinguished. Unlike myself, she does have the “Shakespeare Cred” to talk about the Theater aspects of the adaptation, which would placate the Shakespeare aficionados that would enevitably view the video.

What are your long term goals for

I have quite a simple answer to that, and that is to keep using it as a way to make learning about Classical Theater, Literature, and History fun.

What’s your one piece of advice for other educators trying to reach students with Shakespeare?

Teach them as plays, and let your students have their own opinions of the characters and story. Trust that the play's plot and story will still hold itself together, regardless of your students' interpretation of the characters. Shakespeare wrote these characters (fairly) realistically, and much like real people, their actions will still be (relatively) real, regardless of what your students think. The point is to engage them in the play, and let them realize exactly why the storytelling and character development in these plays still endure even today.

What’s your favorite Shakespeare play?

For artistry, Richard II. For story, Hamlet. It knows exactly where it wants to go from the very beginning, and barely ever delineates from the main plot. The fact that the on-rails story is still engaging despite the 3-hour run time is a testament to Shakespeare's storytelling ability.

Who is your favorite Shakespeare Character(s)?

That would be Rosalind from As You Like It, who is one of the stronger female characters in Shakespeare's plays. Admittedly, I like strong women.

If you could spend an evening with the Bard, what would you do?

I would ask him what was going on in his life when he wrote The Merchant of Venice. As far as I can tell, it's the Frankenstein's Monster of theater. It has four completely different plots that are barely linked together by a few lines of throwaway dialogue. They don't even have any tangible common themes, like Shakespeare wrote the play under duress, or in a hurry, and just grabbed four random manuscripts, wrote some extra lines, and made a chimera of a play out of it.

Any last comments?

If you're an educator (or something to that effect), try to make learning about Shakespeare fun. True, not everyone will like it, and very few people will use their knowledge of Shakespeare once they're out of school and working, but at least let them remember it as something that was fun to study.

Thank you very much for the Questions. This has been Sharky. Take Care!

You can find Sharky at

You can find melodramatic fun Shakespeare for Kids at

Part 2 of the interview can be found here

Video of the interview can be found here:

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