American Shakespeare Center releases shows, education resources online

Even though the American Shakespeare Center is closed, people can still see some performances. | Credit: Lauren Parker
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STAUNTON, Va. (WHSV)— Even though the American Shakespeare Center is closed, people in the Shenandoah Valley and beyond can still watch performances on their streaming platform, BlkFrsTV.

BlkFrsTV is a streaming platform the center launched after closing their doors last month due to COVID-19. The Blackfriars Playhouse, their performing space, which is a re-creation of the original Blackfriars Playhouse in London, had to close on March 16 and suspend their Actors' Renaissance season of shows.

Foreseeing the extended effects of the coronavirus, the theater also canceled their spring season and announced they would not be able to reopen until the start of summer. The move came before Governor Ralph Northam ordered arts and recreations businesses to close a matter of days later.

The theater company released their actors from contracts and furloughed much of their staff and reduced hours for others due to the financial impact of the closure.

But since that time, they have developed a way for people anywhere in the world to watch their shows – in a recorded video version, instead of live in the theatre.

They began releasing recorded versions of shows performed by their resident troupe last week, and this week, announced their fifth release, Midsummer 90, performed by their touring troupe.

It's a family-friendly, intermission-free version of A Midsummer Night's Dream, cut down to 90 minutes, originally performed as a touring show for schools and communities across the country.

People can purchase tickets to stream the shows online starting at $10, and all proceeds go to the ASC's Keep the Lights On campaign, which is helping the non-profit stay afloat through the pandemic. Other shows on the platform include Much Ado About Nothing, A King and No King, Henry IV, Part 1 and Henry IV, Part 2.

“The initial response to BlkFrsTV and the quality of the productions we’ve captured has been incredible,” ASC Artistic Director Ethan McSweeny said in a press release. “Especially when you consider that we filmed seven productions in five days while facing a shut-down, and, while most of our staff is on furlough, created a digital streaming distribution network — basically from scratch.”

In addition to being able to see this round of plays through BlkFrsTV, people can also take advantage of educational resources they're making available online. Study guides for specific plays and a virtual tour of the Blackfriars Playhouse are available online. People can also register for three day, four class virtual Shxcademy courses that will be hosted live. Each weekend in April, ASC educators and artists will do a deep-dive into one of the plays available on BlkFrsTV.

“We wanted to meet the need of educators of all sorts: professionals creating new digital curriculum as well as parents confronting sudden-onset homeschooling,” McSweeny said. “This series of digital learning initiatives can be used in a variety of settings, making programs ASC has developed over the last two decades accessible to all. We are finding new ways to package our education materials with the shows that are up and running on BlkFrs TV.”

There are also resources for teachers as they are helping their students learn from home. Middle school through college educators can have one of the ASC Education team members host a workshop on a variety of topics, for a fee per student. Teachers can contact groupsales@americanshakespearecenter.com to learn more about how to facilitate those options while students learn from home.

BlkFrsTV also has an educational resources page with excerpts from a guide to teaching Shakespeare and podcasts.

The complete Actors’ Renaissance Season will only be available for streaming until April 19. Digital tickets give you access to the performances for one week. More titles are expected to be added soon.