Do theaters ever get tired of performing Shakespeare after four centuries? According to Houston’s own bards, the answer is a firm nay. “The wonderful thing about it is that you’re joining hundreds of thousands of actors who have been getting up onstage and saying the words,” says Rutherford Cravens, a regular performer in the Bayou City’s vibrant Shakespeare scene. “It’s a line that stretches back for 400 years to a stage in London.”

Summer is always the season of Shakespeare, but many of this year’s Bard-tastic productions, including the popular Houston Shakespeare Festival at Miller Outdoor Theatre, have faced their own “alas poor Yorick” moments amid the coronavirus pandemic. While we can’t gather in front of a stage right now, the sonnets and soliloquies you love are coming to your personal computer screens as part of Main Street Theater’s virtual Shakespeare readings, BYOBard. During these free events on July 27 and August 10, a rotating cast of local professional actors will perform some of their favorite Shakespeare passages via Zoom.

Before they don their Tudor ruffs, a few of BYOBard’s participating actors chatted with us about why Shakespeare work is as at home in 2020 as it was in the 1590s—a time when, ironically enough, London playhouses were shut down because of the bubonic plague. “I can't think of a better playwright to guide us through these strange times than William Shakespeare,” adds actor Luis Galindo.

Rutherford Cravens as Pistol in Main Street Theater and Prague Shakespeare Company's 2013 co-production of Henry V .

Rutherford Cravens

What he’ll be performing: Antipholus and Dromio, Comedy of Errors

Why is Shakespeare still relevant to modern audiences?

Shakespeare’s people are so abundantly and authentically alive that for 400 years, audiences have been able to recognize themselves and their experiences as they watch the stories unfold onstage. I work with a group of young actors who tour Houston’s middle and high schools doing a 45-minute version of Romeo and Juliet. We do that not because it's a classic or a required text, but because it is, as far as I know, the most accurate theatrical representation of what it feels like to be 15 or 16 years old and in love for the first time. 

What’s your favorite Shakespearean role to play and why?

Lear. I actually did it about 10 years ago; It was a hell of a mountain to climb, and I don’t think I was particularly good in the role, but I loved every minute of it. I did it here in Houston and in Prague, where we performed in a park. There is one scene toward the end of the play where Lear staggers out into a storm to rage at God. One night in the park, there was a thunderstorm and I got to do the scene as the skies above me heaved with thunder and lightning, and rain pelted down on me. It was sublime—and that’s not a word I use very often. 

Jessie Hyder as Viola/Cesario in Company Onstage and Boiling Point Players' upcoming Totally Twelfth Night, a web series presentation of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.

Jessie Hyder

What she’ll be performing:  Henry V, Henry V

What’s one thing about Shakespeare that you think modern readers and audiences commonly misunderstand?

They get bogged down with the language and brush his work off because of that. If one treats it as a dialect or non-native language to translate, it creates a wonderful challenge to decode, transcribe, and personalize.

What will you be performing at BYOBard?

A cut of Henry V’s St. Crispin’s Day speech from Act IV, recommended to me by my grandfather. I like that Harry the King, to pump up his small band of brothers, has the perspective to think about this battle as an epic chance for making history. It is a special kind of person that runs to the battlefield when everyone else runs for cover. During the present times, this speech is a salute to all the medical workers risking their own lives to travel to COVID hot spots in order to help those who cannot help themselves and, in turn, be a part of history.

What are the benefits and challenges of performing in a virtual format?

Other than needing the God-given faith that your internet won’t break down the moment you start a monologue, it is film acting compared to theater acting. The close ups are tell-alls, so if you act the way you would in a 700-seat theater house, on camera, you’ll look like you’re overreacting or just having a seizure. And no one wants that. But you can also share very intimate, special moments with your audience knowing that they were captured.

Luis Galindo as Macbeth in Independent Shakespeare Co.’s 2013 production of Macbeth.

Luis Galindo

What he’ll be performing: The Ghost, Hamlet

Why is Shakespeare still relevant to modern audiences?

No one ever described what it is to be a human being with more grace, beauty, humor, power, and wit than he. You have to go to some major spiritual texts to find anything as profound and helpful on the subject of being. 

What’s your favorite Shakespearean role to play and why?

My favorite role has been Macbeth because it was by far the most challenging thing I have ever tried to do, and it was the most rewarding.

July 27 and Aug 10. Free. More info and registration at mainstreettheater.com. 

Show Comments