William Shakespeare is now a New Yorker and more alive than ever — thanks to The Sonnet Project, a virtual initiative in the form of a mobile application in which actors recite his 154 sonnets in New York City’s most emblematic places, offering a contemporary setting of the classic works.
The initiative, run by New York Shakespeare Exchange theatRE group, was launched six years ago to transmit the values and sensibilities of the genius English writer to New Yorkers, while the 400th anniversary of the literary luminary’s death will be commemorated next year.
“There are many things in the Shakespearean world that still happen. I feel that it connects us to the past, and when we recall them through mobile phone technology, we also connect with the future,” the artistic director of The Sonnet Project, Ross Williams, told Efe news agency.
Williams said the sentiments conveyed by the sonnets, first published in 1609, continue to be relevant as they speak of “universal experiences” like love, jealousy and betrayal.
“Shakespeare is a part of my world, your world and the world of every other person,” insisted the artistic director,
“if we can make this language relevant and contemporary, the entire world can have the kind of experience that I have had and so did many others from different generations”.
After seeing that traditional plays failed to attract the masses, the company decided to invest in the digital project, a free application for iPhones and iPads.
Every week, a short film depicting a Shakespeare sonnet recited before iconic landmarks like the Brooklyn Bridge, Central Park or the New York Public Library will be released on the application.
“The sonnets are so short that they are like small bites, little pleasures, which can be viewed anytime in mobile phones in place of having to watch an entire theatrical performance online,” Williams added.
The filmmakers believe every filming location adopts Shakespeare in an American way: contemporary and very different from classical literature, but nonetheless a city that is overflowing with poetry.
“There is poetry in the architecture, in the parks surrounded by traffic, in the nature of technology, among the people of all races and ages walking around in Central Park, waving goodbye at the Grand Central Station or walking around with the view of Statue of Liberty, without giving a second thought to what it represents,” Williams said.
While the director’s focus on Shakespeare reflects his personal tastes, he “dreams” that every country in the world would commission a company to bring a national poet closer to the society.
According to the theatre group, the digital sonnets have more than 100,000 views and the application has been downloaded in more than 65 countries.
The creators of The Sonnet Project have already completed renditions of more than half the sonnets, and intend to have contemporary versions of all of them by Shakespeare’s death anniversary on April 23, 2016, which coincides with that of Spanish literary legend and author of “Don Quixote”, Miguel De Cervantes, from which we get World Book Day.