This week we’re talking about Bard in the Barracks’ 2010-2011 production of the Shakespeare favourite MacBeth and how a filmed version of the show has become one of the most popular on YouTube with a million views and counting.
If you’ve been following this series, you’ll have noticed that most of the topics we’ve covered so far go back 30 or 40 years in New Brunswick history. Back to the weird and wonderful 1970s and 1980s. But you don’t always have to look so far back to uncover something truly remarkable, as is the case this week.
This week we’re talking about Bard in the Barracks’ 2010-2011 production of the Shakespeare favourite MacBeth to look at how a filmed version of the play essentially won the internet.
As its name suggests, Bard in the Barracks got its start performing theatre in Barracks Square, downtown Fredericton. Its 2010 production of Macbeth was among the company’s first to be performed in Odell Park.
Every year for the past few decades Artistic Director Len Falkenstein chooses one or two of Shakespeare’s plays to produce in early summer. Auditions are held, the shows are cast, and then performed with a mix of local theatre talent ranging from aspiring thespians to hobbyist theatre lovers. And every so often the Bard crew come upon the perfect combination of story, set, location, costumes, actors and designers. The combination behind Bard’s 2010 production was one of those magic moments.
Looking back at it now it’s easy to see why this show proved so popular. The cast includes some local artists who are now professional actors or published playwrights. And others who have each in their own way helped to keep the city’s theatre scene breathing and thriving. Lightning in a bottle, as they say. The audience certainly thought so. So did Falkenstein. The show’s original 2010 production proved so popular he decided to bring it back for a second run in 2011.
“The response in 2010 was overwhelming,” said Falkenstein. “Larger crowds than we’ve ever had for any show. Over 150 people some nights.”
A typical Bard performance usually attracts anywhere between 50-70 patrons a good night. That’s been the standard for just about as long as the company has been producing plays. So it’s no wonder Falkenstein and his team were caught off guard when huge crowds started turning up for the show’s nightly performance. In a lot of ways, Bard shows were never designed to accommodate crowds topping out at over a hundred patrons.
“Audiences had to contend with some less than ideal sightlines and other conditions as a result, but no one seemed to mind,” said Falenstein.
In 2011, the University of New Brunswick was hosting the Congress of the Social Sciences and Humanities, the largest annual academic conference in Canada, and Falkenstein was tasked with providing some theatrical entertainment for the thousands of expected participants.
“I just thought, hey, I’m sure we’d get a lot of people back from Fredericton, in addition to folks who are coming for the conference,” he said. “So we did the remount of Macbeth at the end of May when the conference was here, and then a full production of King Lear at the end of June as our regular new show. It was a bit of a busy summer, you might say.”
During rehearsals for the May run, Fredericton filmmaker Chris Giles approached Falkenstein with the idea to film the show.
“He approached us with the idea and we were thrilled to let him do it,” said Falkenstein. “But we didn’t make it easy for him. Essentially, he just shot us doing the dress rehearsals over two or three different nights. We didn’t make any accommodations for it being a film, as you can see when you watch it. There were continuity errors he had to contend with as things changed between nights of the rehearsals. At times, actors were standing too far apart for film, and it got very dark towards the end. And yet, artistically, it’s really quite a stunning and impressive accomplishment. He got close ups that are amazing. He shifts between black and white in ways that work well and are really cool. It really does capture the feeling of what it was like to experience that show in the nighttime in the woods in Odell.”
The final edit was posted to YouTube on June 21, 2014. It now has over a million views. If you search for MacBeth on YouTube using the View Count filter you will find Fredericton’s own Bard in the Barracks production among the first full performances revealed in the search.
“The vision Chris had for the final product is amazing and the amount of time and work he must have put into it is immense,” said Falkenstein. “Chris is a true auteur and we’re lucky to have him in our province.”