Two Schools, One Play: How Skype Helped Make it Happen
Skype soliloquys? Apparently so, and “All the world’s a stage”, as we recently caught wind of two acting studios who decided to join forces and put on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. There was just one catch: one studio was in Australia at the Wollongong Drama Studio, and the other was in New York at the Stella Adler Studio for Acting.
Luckily, distance didn’t deter studio directors Fiona Finley of Wollongong and Tom Oppenheim of Stella Adler. Instead, they saw this as an opportunity to get creative and try something new. With the use of Skype video call, the two studios were able to put on the same play with thousands of miles between them. We had the chance to catch up with Fiona Finley to find out how she and Tom managed to take Romeo and Juliet into the 21st century.
What gave your studio the idea of putting on Romeo and Juliet between the two schools via Skype?
I’m always looking for ways to get the kids to have new and different experiences. I was brainstorming and remembered that the National Youth Theater in London runs a program each year where students go overseas. However, I misinterpreted what they had done and thought that they had their overseas plays via Skype, when in fact they went overseas to perform the plays in person. When I was first starting out as a director, I went to the Stella Alder Studio for Acting as an assistant director and got in contact with their Artistic Director and President Tom Oppenheim. We always wanted to find a way to work together without all the travel costs involved, and it just developed from there.
How were you able to execute the play with half the cast on Skype?
Romeo and Juliet seemed to be the best fit for this type of play, since the two worlds are clearly defined. Our side played the Montagues, and New York played the Capulets. The production in Australia was reversed in America. New York’s Juliet was displayed on a huge screen here, and our Romeo was interacting with her on stage, and it was vice versa in America. It was the same production but from two different angles.
How has the reaction been?
It’s all been great! It’s definitely going to be the start of a magnificent relationship between our school and the Stella Adler Studio in New York. This could very well change the way we work in theater. It means that companies can reach out to each other from the other side of the world and have interactive experiences and plays without huge budgets and travel needs. Also, it kind of reminds me of when having a pen pal was popular, as kids from both studios are now maintaining the friendships they made through doing this play and are staying in touch via Skype.
Studio director Fiona Finley with Romeo and Juliet lead actor Matt Latham. (Image c/o Justin Huntsdale/ABC Illawarra)
What was the most fun aspect of doing something like this through Skype?
I get excited with everything to do with theater. It’s exciting to have kids talk to each other and realize that even if they’re on other side of world, they still share the same interest and love for theater. It’s a very beautiful thing to see, and it changes the way we communicate. It’s so much better than just having typed conversations and sending mail back and forth.
Do you plan on making any changes in your future Skype plays?
We were looking at potentially using group video calls for our next Skype performance. One feature we would love would be to have the ability to prerecord things on group video calls.