PITTSBURGH — If you think Shakespeare's works have been performed so often there's not much left to do with them, think again. No one has ever filmed readings of all 154 sonnets by a succession of actors and nonactors in evocative locations around the world, and presented them in the order Shakespeare published them in 1609.
Someone is doing it now, however: Jeff Monahan, president of 72nd St. Films in Manhattan and Connellsville, Pa., and Joanna Lowe, founder of Cup-A-Jo Productions in Pittsburgh.
"People have performed them in a restructured order and tried to form a narrative, but they haven't been presented in a single project in the order they were published, and certainly not like this," Monahan said.
"We got the idea of using scholars, musicians, songwriters, poets, actors, all doing the sonnets in a way that speaks to them."
Said Lowe, "Our goal is to film each sonnet in a way that tells the story within each poem and lets viewers follow the running themes, not just for scholars but for anyone to appreciate. The sonnets all lend themselves to different styles. There are dark themes in the horror vein, comical images that are almost slapstick, and some very sensual ones with a visceral feel."
The sonnets involve a complex love triangle — the speaker, a beautiful young man addressed in the early poems, and "The Dark Lady," subject of the later ones.
"People are fascinated by the sonnets because they want to see Shakespeare's biography in them," said the project's producer/scholar Patrick Conner, retired chairman of the English department at West Virginia University. "The intensity of the poems forces you to have a visual image as you go through them, which appeals to a filmmaker."
Conner, who has taught the sonnets and also done some acting, set up a Kickstarter campaign to help with financing. It has a promotional video with readers delivering short passages of some of the sonnets.
The campaign, which ends April 30, has a goal of s $25,000, enough for the first phase, with shoots this summer in Pittsburgh and Dublin, Ireland.
Filming eventually will take place in cities across the United States, England, Scotland, and Ireland. They are hoping to release the film on Shakespeare's birthday — April 23 — next year.
"We're very excited about this being a lead-in to doing more Shakespeare and making it more accessible," Monahan said.
Already involved in the project are the actors Ben Crystal (known in England for making Shakespeare accessible) and Ashley Laurence (Hellraiser).