a completely crazy idea dreamed up by Ross Williams from NY Shakespeare Exchange. 154 sonnets, 154 NYC locations, 154 actors. It’s a tapestry of cinematic art that infuses the poetry of William Shakespeare into the poetry of New York City. It’s huge, it’s visceral and it’s right here.
It became apparent that each sonnet was not simply a ‘video’ – not simply an actor standing at a monument reciting a sonnet – but a short independent film. Every single sonnet required time and effort beyond our imagining. But the finished product! Each one is expansive, narrative – a work of art.
We decided to focus on the journey rather than the destination – the Project will not be finished by April. But that’s ok. In fact, it’s more than ok because the Project has exploded into a sprawling, barely controllable, ever-growing, ever-changing tribute to Shakespeare’s art, New York City, and the artists that live here. And we love it.
I’ve barely begun to explore the films on the website, but I like what I’ve seen so far. They do seem to be quite varied in their approaches to the poems, imaginatively filmed and well acted. I love the whole idea of this project, and have added it to the recommended links on the front page of Moving Poems as well as to our links page. Here’s what the Times had to say about this film:
The [New York Shakespeare Exchange] group, which started the project in 2013, just completed its 100th film: Sonnet 27, starring Carrie Preston, an Emmy award-winning actress, and filmed on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, It will premiere April 8 on the Sonnet Project website and app.
Ms. Preston and the director, Michael Dunaway, met their share of surprises too, while filming Sonnet 27, about an obsessive love creating a jangle of nerves. Ms. Preston plays a married commuter on her way home, exhausted but excited by a workplace affair. But the drive over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, in a hired car, went smoothly. Too smoothly. “We were hoping for a traffic jam — it’s the perfect metaphor for being stuck in your own mind at the end of a long day — and we filmed at rush hour, but the traffic flowed perfectly,” Ms. Preston said.
Ms. Preston said she, Mr. Dunaway, and Karin Hayes, the co-director, went back over the bridge 10 times to get the shots they wanted, running up a much higher than expected bill. “What we forgot about was the toll,” Mr. Dunaway said. “I chalk it all up to the sacrifices we make for art.”
And finally, some notes about the use of the Sonnet Project website: Clicking on a sonnet/image on the front page gallery brings up a page with not only the YouTube embed of the film but also, if one scrolls down past the photo stills of the NYC location and the Next and Previous links, a tabbed menu with Text Analysis, Location, Actor, and Film Team. The analysis also reproduces the text of the sonnet, followed by an informal commentary in a populist style. Here, for example, is what they say about Sonnet 27:
Sonnet 27 plays with the duality of night and day, with day being full of work and night full of beauty because that is when the speaker can think on his lover.
Here Willy reflects on how thoughts of his beloved keep him awake, and even in darkness the image floats before him, like a jewel on a night-dark background, making the night beautiful. By day he is made weary by work and travel, and by night rest is denied him, for he has to make journeys in his mind to attend on the loved one, who is far away.
This sonnet is the only one in the canon that is pangrammatic. A pangram or holoalphabetic composition uses every letter of the alphabet at least once!
The other tabs are equally informative. I’ll be interested to see whether the app is as useful as the website. Have I mentioned I love this project? Many thanks to Erica Goss for bringing it to our attention with a link on Twitter earlier this week.