For two weeks this past August, the words of the Bard rang through the speakers of MidPen’s studios, as myShakespeare, a locally-based digital curriculum company, filmed their innovative twist on the Shakespeare’s classic, Julius Caesar. myShakespeare seeks to update the Bard for the 21st-century student with interactive full-text versions of his plays that include performances and Charlie Rose-style interviews with the characters.
For the last several years in conjunction with every play they produce, myShakespeare has returned to MidPen to film these performances and interviews, which are a key draw to their product. Co-Founder Greg Watkins hopes that “the myShakespeare editions of the plays will create new Shakespeare fans in this generation of media-obsessed students.”
This year, they turned their attention to Julius Caesar, which seemed “particularly relevant” to today’s YouTube generation, according to Chief Content Officer Sally Treanor. “The play’s focus on political rhetoric and public versus private personae distills some of the issues that students see playing out in our current election cycle.” The performance production style enhances the effect: myShakespeare films their performances as talking heads, which is reminiscent of the direct-to-camera deliveries of many of today’s politicians and pundits.
myShakespeare also seeks to keep Shakespeare contemporary by bringing in diverse, young actors, who look like the students in their audience. “One barrier for entry for students,” Treanor notes, “is that they want to see themselves in these productions. When they look onstage or at a screen and see someone who is far removed from their experience, it can be that much harder to connect to the language itself.”
In fact, one of the central challenges in teaching Shakespeare to today’s students is finding these kinds of contemporary connections. myShakespeare’s belief is that students are ready and waiting for Shakespeare–they just need to see the material in contexts that are relevant to them. As Watkins puts it, “the media elements will bring them in, and then the Shakespeare will keep bringing them back.”
In that sense, MidPen has been an essential part of the myShakespeare team. Watkins adds, “It’s no exaggeration to say that we wouldn’t be where we are today – with four productions completed – without the talents and hard work of the folks at MidPen. They’ve been such an important part of our efforts – and they’re fun to work with, too. I can’t imagine having done it without them.”
To learn more, or to explore myShakespeare’s interactive, multimedia offerings, checkout myshakespeare.com. While Julius Caesar remains in production, they have complete editions of Hamlet, Macbeth, and Romeo and Juliet.