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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

24 Hour Shakespeare Project is non-stop iambic pentameter

There is nothing like a child in need to bring people together, and none better to rally around one of their own than the local theatre, film and television community.

In honour of Shakespeare’s 450th birthday on April 23, dozens of Vancouver personalities will undertake a 24 hour marathon of iambic pentameter to help raise funds for BC Children’s Hospital Foundation. With no rehearsal, no costumes and no set, this is definitely Shakespeare at its rawest, as those that have signed on will literally jump on stage to join actor and organizer John Emmet Tracy over the 24 hour period.

The brainchild of Tracy, the fundraiser was born from his family’s experience at BC Children’s Hospital when their then two-and-a-half year old son Finnian underwent heart surgery.

“I was inspired a week after his  surgery when he was moved from ICU to his own room. I had a moment to breath and look around and see all the staff who were working so diligently and treating us with so much care.  I knew then and there that I wanted to do some sort of benefit,” recalls Tracy.

And what better way for an actor with a passion for the material to show his support than with Shakespeare.

“As a professional actor with many years of experience performing, studying and teaching Shakespeare’s plays, it was clear to me that I would build this fundraiser around Shakespeare’s work.  Combining my love for this material with my passion to offer something back to BC Children’s Hospital was a clear decision for me,” says Tracy.

Now five years in the making, Tracy has been busy editing Shakespeare’s 38 plays into manageable thirty and forty minute versions. Calling it a very private endeavour as he tinkered away at home, Tracy was looking forward to the end of the tunnel as he had just four more to go at the time of our interview.

Of course, condensing Shakespeare into shorter versions isn’t without its challenges, largely given Tracy’s respect for the original text.

“In a way all of the plays have been difficult to shorten, because once I get into reading and editing them I do these slow methodical reads and discover just how fantastic they are, and the deeper I get into a play the harder it is to cut anything out,” he explains.

John Emmett Tracy will remain on stage performing for the entire 24 hours.
John Emmett Tracy, organizer of the 24 Hour Shakespeare Project, will remain on stage performing for the entire 24 hours.

Tracy is also aware that audiences have come to expect certain things from plays like A Midsummer Night’s Dream or Hamlet.  “People know the characters and some of them even know lines from the play, so I found myself always second guessing what to cut and what to leave in.”

Tracy says he has also been careful with his edits to ensure the integrity of Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter.

“Especially the ones written in verse; I’ve been careful to not butcher them,” he says with a laugh. “If I take a certain number of beats out of a line, I match it with the final third of another line to ensure the pentameter remains.”

With the condensed plays nearing completion, Tracy is putting on his producer’s hat as the April 23 deadline looms.  But with nearly 20% of his $10,000.00 goal already reached and the outpouring of support he has received, dealing with the some of the mundane practicalities of putting on such an endeavour is making it easier.

“Nobody has said ‘no’ to me,” says Tracy who wasn’t afraid to ask fellow actors and others to be part of the project.  “If the moment was appropriate I would usually ask the leads or whoever I was working with on the set of a film or on stage.  Every single person has said yes.”

Still confirming the final line-up, Tracy says he has signed dozens of performers that reads like a veritable who’s who of the Vancouver theatre, television and film scene: Amanda Tapping, Alessandro Juliani, Brendan Meyer, John Cassini, Anthony Ingram, Pippa Mackie, Omari Newton, Patrick Sabongui, John Innes, Daniel Arnold, Mark Lieren-Young, Luisa Jojic, Michael Coleman, Melissa Oei, Johannah Newmarch, Michael Kopsa, Veena Sood, Andrew McNee, Kayla Deorksen, Anna Hagen, Phil Granger, Kyra Zagorsky, Ron Reed, Cherise Clarke and many more.

More than just a community looking to help one of their own, Tracy also discovered that many of those he asked to participate had their own connection to BC Children’s Hospital.

“The other amazing thing were the conversations I had with actors, community leaders and media personalities who all shared their own stories of being in Children’s Hospital themselves or having children who have gone through the hospital.  This has become just as much a labour of love for them.”

With thoughts to making it an annual fundraiser, Tracy must first get through this one, a task that includes remaining on stage and performing for the entire 24 hours.

“I’m staying awake every night until four or five in the morning right now handling the producing, editing and other tasks, so I guess that is like being in training for staying awake for the duration,” he laughs.

The 24 Hour Shakespeare Project takes place from noon on Wednesday, April 23 through noon on Thursday, April 24 at the Blake Snyder Theatre at GO Studios (112 East 3rd Ave).  Audience members are invited to drop-in anytime during the 24 hours with a suggested admission donation of $15 for adult and $5 for children 5-12 years old.  Visit for more information or to donate.

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