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Monday, November 29, 2021

Local filmmaker and playwright tackle Shakespeare in latest project

“The Seven Sides of Shakespeare” was shot almost entirely on an iPad over six months

Miller and McShane with two members of the public after a private screening of the film at Maude’s SideCar Bar.
Miller and McShane with two members of the public after a private screening of the film at Maude’s SideCar Bar.

If all the world’s a stage, then Gainesville is no exception.

Just ask Shamrock McShane, who made a stage of the entire city and beyond in his latest project, “The Seven Sides of Shakespeare.” The film utilizes locations across Alachua County as backdrops for McShane delivering seven iconic monologues from the works of William Shakespeare. Written by and starring McShane and directed by Tom Miller, the film was shot and edited almost entirely on an iPad over the course of six months.

Originally conceived as a stage play, “The Seven Sides of Shakespeare” sees McShane, a 69-year-old retired teacher and active actor and playwright, performing the monologues as well as recalling events from his own life. He said he began writing the play after watching Ian McKellen’s “Acting Shakespeare,” a one-man show in which McKellen recites various Shakespearian texts along with anecdotes from his time in the roles.

Though McShane initially took a similar approach, writing more a compilation of career highlights than a personal narrative, he said the piece began to morph into something larger than a reenactment of some Shakespeare staples.

“When I started to tell my own story, I realized that my biography was actually part of the play,” he said. “It wasn’t all about Shakespeare – it was about me as well.”

What resulted was the story of McShane’s life through the lens of seven different Shakespeare characters, each correlating with moments in McShane’s journey from Chicago to Key West to, eventually, Gainesville. The screenplay addresses both professional and personal points, from McShane’s first role in a Shakespearean play to the death of his father. 

An actor since the age of 22, McShane’s past roles in Shakespeare productions inspired the seven selections – Mercutio in “Romeo and Juliet,” Oberon in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Malvolio in “Twelfth Night,” Macbeth in “Macbeth,” Julius Caesar in “Julius Caesar,” Jaques in “As You Like It,” and Prospero in “The Tempest.”

McShane workshopped “The Seven Sides of Shakespeare” in several different locations, including Expressions Learning Arts Academy. He then recruited Tom Miller, a 55-year-old multi-disciplinary performance artist and screenwriter, to direct the final version, which ran at the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre from Feb. 28 to March 8 last year.

But like all in-person events of the time, any notion of the play’s future was squandered by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was then, when performances in the theater were no longer possible, that McShane suggested he and Miller film the performance.

At first, the plan was to record McShane performing in the theater as he had originally done, but Miller had different ideas.

“He said, ‘No, I want to make a real movie,’” McShane said.

Eventually finding producers in Michael Presley Bobbitt and Joey Larson, a local playwright and a business owner from Tampa respectively, McShane and Miller set out to make their movie in May 2020 with nothing but a $2,400 budget and an iPad in tow. The minimalist conditions, Miller said, were born out of necessity but also inspired by the Bard himself.

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“Shakespeare used a pen – look at the damage! Look at the insanity!” Miller said.

“The Seven Sides of Shakespeare” was mostly filmed around Alachua County, including the Hippodrome Theatre, the Star Center Theatre and Bo Diddley Plaza. The final act, however, is set in Cedar Key, an island just over an hour west of Gainesville.

The island setting was especially important for the last of the seven sections, Miller said, where McShane performs one of Prospero’s monologues from “The Tempest.” But the island’s value didn’t come from its adherence to the original play, Miller said – it came from what the island represents.

“We all go to the tempest,” Miller said. “We all go to the island of imagination.”

It’s these different layers of reality, Miller said, that define the film. “The Seven Sides of Shakespeare” is meant to challenge the viewer’s perception of fact versus fiction, to blur the lines between Shakespeare’s characters, McShane and the general truths of mankind.

Though the film is autobiographical, McShane is credited as only “The Walking Man,” meant to be a vessel for any viewer that relates to the sentiments expressed in and out of the monologues, Miller said. It’s a reflection of how the seven different characters are all applicable to different stages of McShane’s life

The identity of The Walking Man is left entirely ambiguous, so much that there’s doubt, according to Miller, that he’s even real. In fact, Miller and McShane have toyed with theories of the character being dead the entire time, walking the audience through the events of the film from the afterlife.

This ambiguity is perpetuated further by the interconnectedness between Shakespeare’s stories and McShane’s own. Mercutio fell in love, allegedly, with Romeo the same way a 22-year-old McShane fell in love with Shakespeare in playing that role; Jaques treats the Forest of Arden as his personal stage just as McShane performed to an audience of one throughout filming; and just as McShane finished reciting a monologue from Macbeth, detailing a husband and wife who meet their disastrous ends at the hands of their own blind ambition, the eerie background music cut out completely and McShane stared straight into the camera.

“And then my wife divorced me,” he said.  

“The Seven Sides of Shakespeare” is currently making the rounds in the festival circuit, earning an official selection from the L’Hospitalet - Barcelona International Film Festival and a Best Director Award semifinalist spot from Best Film Awards in London. It has also picked up a Selection Laurel from the Crown Wood International Film Festival in Kolkata, India. 

Miller said the film will be shown in public sporadically, with small “guerilla” screenings set up in various locations across Gainesville, and the showings will be announced as they occur.

Miller and McShane said they hope the universality of Shakespeare shines through in their film. Despite the centuries-old subject matter, the two said they want the audience to find common ground with the Shakespearian themes of identity, forgiveness and the journey of life.

Above all, though, Miller said he wants the film to inspire authentic creative expression and hopes the film conveys the longevity of the human spirit.

“Despite the fact that we all face the end of everything at the end of our lives, there may be more, and it may be related to our imagination,” he said.

As “The Seven Sides of Shakespeare” draws to a close with a final shot of McShane walking down a continuing pier fading to black, there exists the sense that the story never truly ends – it just changes characters.

Contact Heather Bushman at hbushman@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @hgrizzl.

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