What happens when a few theatre practitioners get playful with Shakespeare? Can we tell a Shakespeare story with mundane objects and perhaps digital ones too? These were some of the questions that led to the outcome of OBJECTing Shakespeare. 

Unlike standard Shakespearean retellings, OBJECTing Shakespeare delved into specific objects from Shakespeare’s famous plays, namely King Lear and the Merchant of Venice. The participants explored how specific chosen objects - although not expressively obvious ones  - could playfully transform in the plays, and what objects in the plays themselves could be shape-shift. Apart from physical objects, green screens and music became part of the manipulations examined. 

The project from the get-go was conceived as an online collaboration between Malaysia and the UK. Malaysia went into a lockdown as early as March 18, 2020. Working with this limitation, the dramaturgs successfully turned the pandemic movement restrictions into a creative exploration of digital propensities for theatre-making. 

The project flowed into an online Shakespeare Demystified: King Lear; six live and interactive shows were staged over Zoom to a total of 329 in the audience.

OBJECTing Shakespeare was proposed as a research-and-development activity to playfully transform objects in Shakespeare productions for non-native English-speaking children. The project aimed to challenge the notion that Shakespeare is accessible only through the Bard’s words, which are difficult even for contemporary native English-speaking audiences. OBJECTing Shakespeare focused on objects to enable them to push what is seen–the optics–to make accessible what is said to children and differently-abled audiences. OBJECTing Shakespeare put more weight on action and images. The project also explored how the choice of objects could compel newly imagined drama and push boundaries.

The objects became the territory across which we could unite the worlds of devised theatre and text-based theatre, creating a rich cross-pollination of theatrical languages

This spirit of inclusivity and collaboration between KL Shakespeare Players and its UK partners has planted the seeds of further future collaborations. The project also navigated through the yet unknown territory of making theatre “live” online and demonstrated that it can be done successfully, even as challenges related to commercial viability and audience preference remain unaddressed.  

UK-participant, Cinzia Ciaramicoli said, “The project introduced me to making theatre on Zoom. This is an important new world for us theatre makers and the KL Shakespeare Players are at its frontier.” She added, “When we decided to create a research project with the Malaysian theatre ensemble KL Shakespeare Players, we all had no idea of how this could be possible through Zoom.”

Malaysian-participant, Teoh Jun Vinh, had this to say, “My honest opinion is we have only just begun to tap into the potential that was seeded from the collaboration. When I reflect on the process and showcase, I see a real opportunity to reimagine an online medium that for many is a necessary but anxiety-inducing endeavour. The cross-pollination of cultures and aesthetics came together to produce an experience that was entertaining, surprisingly visceral, and empoweringly whimsical. Most of all, in a time when we are forced to be distant, I see an opportunity to bring people together across borders to be awakened by something fresh--and look forward to what could be.”

KL Shakespeare Players

KL Shakespeare Players are made up of Lim Soon Heng (Executive Director, Producer), Lim Kien Lee (Artistic Director), Zul Zamir (Actor) and Teoh Jun Vinh (Actor). They are a group that began in 2011 and is the only theatre company in Malaysia that focuses on Shakespeare’s works, without running away from his language. The company started experimenting with online productions as early as April 2020 when the pandemic hit, and ended the 2021 calendar year with a little over 70 online performances (not counting workshops) to over 20,000 viewers.

Leo Sykes Libanio

Leo Sykes Libanio is a British theatre/film writer and director. She has been the director of Brazil’s Circo Teatro Udi Grudi, a company of musical clowns, since 1998. With them she developed a style of work based on the absurd, the comic, and the poetic, making musical clown shows for multi-generational audiences. Following on from Grotowski’s Poor Theatre she developed the idea of the ‘wealth of poverty’ whereby everything is done with as little as possible. So each object on stage needs to serve multiple purposes, having its physicality and meaning transformed during the show. The use of objects as narrative devices allows performance to be less dependent on dialogue, an important factor when performing internationally or for audiences who may not be fully fluent in English or, indeed, maybe deaf. Leo has also directed aerial shows, site-specific performances, large-scale theatre productions, and street theatre. She also writes scripts, directed short films, and made documentaries. 

Cinzia Ciaramicoli brings with her over 40 years of fine arts work and more than 30 years of experience in theatre. She studied at the Arts’ College Giulio Romano in Rome (1982), Italy, Architecture at La Sapienza University of Rome (1986) and Community Services and Art therapy in Victoria University in Melbourne (2009). As a puppeteer and social activist, she has organized puppetry projects in marginalized communities all around the world. Cinzia lived and worked in Malaysia for 13 years (from 1995 to 2008) and together with Shanthini Venugopal founded "the Jumping JellyBeans" theatre company producing children's performances. Together with Shanthini, they organized and directed the first International "Children's Theatre Festival" in Kuala Lumpur in 2005. Her community arts projects have been awarded in Malaysia and critically acclaimed overseas. In August 2020, Cinzia moved with her family to London, where together with Leo Sykes, she worked on a six-month cultural exchange program “Objecting Shakespeare” with artists from Malaysia – KL Shakespeare Players and funded by the British Council. She entered quickly into the art community of south London building giant puppets and performing with them in occasion of World Earth Day on April 22.

Discover more Connections Through Culture collaborations here.

Check out the opportunities from British Council here.