Fringe’s ‘154 Revisited’ is Shakespeare with a modern twist

3 minute read
Revolutionizing Shakespeare for the collage of everyday people with '154 Revisited.' (Image courtesy of Tai Verley.)
Revolutionizing Shakespeare for the collage of everyday people with '154 Revisited.' (Image courtesy of Tai Verley.)

Although originally crafted with the general public in mind, Shakespeare’s works have become notoriously upper-crust, academic, and frankly inaccessible. Revolution Shakespeare brings the bard’s sonnets back to their intended audience; that is to say, anyone and everyone.

154 Revisited is an impressive undertaking of interpretation by Revolution Shakespeare, a company dedicated to increasing the accessibility of the Bard’s famous works. From 2pm on Thursday, September 10, to 3pm on Sunday, October 4, audiences will be able to digitally navigate this library of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets on their website, selecting performances by sonnet number or by browsing a list of more than 50 creative interpreters to see all of the video and audio works, as well as the adaptations’ text alongside the original verses.

Humble beginnings

The idea for 154 Revisited came to Revolution Shakespeare’s artistic director, Tai Verley, when she saw her community out of work and in need of a creative outlet due to COVID-19. “I knew I was ready to do a [Fringe Festival] season, and I knew I could pivot and be able to help all of these artists and pay them,” Verley told BSR. "I just wanted to spread the love and I realized, ah! If love is the thing, I’d better just go with the sonnets.” She made a list of all the playwrights she knew, asked them to send her the names of even more playwrights, and the list of creators grew until she realized she could assign everyone a few sonnets to tackle in their own unique way.

Collaboration minus the contamination

“In the scarcity that is [now] theater in general, we’re just trying to find ways of connecting to each other,” Verley noted. However, she eschewed in-person theater due to the potential health risks. 154 Revisited doesn’t skip over the intimacy and creativity of theater due to its digital limitations, however. With over fifty playwrights, actors, songwriters, poets, and other artists involved in the project, some of whom create their own connected narratives between the multiple poems with which they work, the magnitude of the project is enabled only by its digital home. Verley laughed at the immensity and daring variety of the project. “You can always come back! There are 154 sonnets! You gotta come back for more, you can’t just absorb it all in one day!”

The root of the problem

As a Black woman, Verley was familiar with the gatekeeping around Shakespeare’s work and personage from a young age. “I was told that I would never understand Shakespeare . . . at school I thought it was this inaccessible thing that I was never going to get,” she recalled. While this is a production intended for the general public, Verley also feels a particular calling to ensure that her experiences are not repeated, and that everyone, especially BIPOC, know that Shakespeare’s works are something that they have a right to know and enjoy. In her own words, “if you want to see the amazing creativity of our entire community, come to 154 Revisited and get a new take on some old stuff that you probably thought wasn’t for you, but is.”

What, When, Where:

154 Revisited will be available as part of the Free Fringe Festival from Thursday, September 10, through October 4 on their website. All text is available over the site and is screen reader compatible, while video and audio files are hosted on YouTube with automated closed captions.

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