April 10, 2015

Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets in 154 short films


A rare copy of Shakespeare's First Folio has been discovered in France. via Wikimedia Commons

Shakespeare’s First Folio
via Wikimedia Commons

In 2013, the theater group New York Shakespeare Exchange started The Sonnet Project, an initiative to create 154 short films in 154 different NYC locations with 154 different actors–one movie for each of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets, which are either recited as dialogue or played in voiceovers.

The result feels a little bit like High Maintenance, if Ben Sinclair were peddling poetry instead of pot: “It’s a tapestry of cinematic art that infuses the poetry of William Shakespeare into the poetry of New York City.” The hope is to “[bring] Shakespeare to people who might not be in touch with it.”

The 100th film, Sonnet 27, just premiered on April 8th, starring Carrie Preston, the Emmy-winning actress you might recognize from True Blood or The Good Wife or, you know, Who’s Afraid of Vagina Wolf?, and was filmed on the Verranzano Bridge.

Ross Williams, the producing artistic director of the project and New York Shakespeare Exchange told The New York Times that he “tried matching sonnets with locations based on their ‘imagery and rhetorical arguments,’ pairing, for example, the legal-minded Sonnet 46 with the State Supreme Court building.”

Other locations include Grand Central Terminal, Staten Island’s Leidy’s Shore Inn, Yankee Stadium, and JFK airport.

The project has cost about $30,000 so far–most of it crowd-funded–and the actors work for free, meaning most of them aren’t as well-known as Preston. Williams says he’s saving the “most famous names” for Sonnet 18–“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day”–and the finale, Sonnet 154, which should premiere next spring.

Here’s the brand new Sonnet 27; the other 99 are up at The Sonnet Project.

Taylor Sperry is a former Melville House editor.