Battle by Bard, part 2

Continuing yesterday’s post, I will describe the “rules of engagement” of the contest I witnessed at the Hear Now Festival. In each round of “ShakesRumble”, two voice actors face off against each other, to do battle one on one.

The actors face one another from a distance of about six feet. Each contestant recites a one minute speech from one of the Bard’s plays, while staring directly into the eyes of the other actor. The first actor who stumbles over the words or looks away loses the round.

Because these are top professionals, both contestants often sail through this first battle round. At that point, the referee adds a “rub” (just as Hamlet might have called it).

The rub is in the form of an extra constraint. For example, in this second round, the contestant may be required to recite their monologue “with an American southern accent”, or “like a Millennial”, or “in the style of a 1940s movie star”, or “as a Martian”, or “as a chicken”, or “while dancing”.

The really great voice actors pass these more difficult tests with ease. And so in the later rounds, when the only contestants standing are the best of the best, the referee keeps adding additional constraints.

The final round consisted of a face off between PJ Ochlan and Julia Whelan, two of the most talented voice actors in the biz. They were both so good that they kept going at it for multiple rounds, with the ref adding on another rub each time.

By the final face-off, they were each performing with five such constraints at once. For example, Julia ended up reciting Puck’s “If we shadows have offended” epilogue to Midsummer Night’s Dream as a Millennial Martian chicken with an American southern accent, in the style of a 1940s movie star.

Like her opponent, she was able to do all of this without breaking eye contact with the other actor, or stumbling over the words. Eventually one of them looked away, but in my mind everyone was a winner.

The whole thing was funny as hell and also comnpletely awe inspiring. Sort of the comic acting equivalent of watching Michael Jordan play a pick-up game of basketball.

O brave new world that has such people in ‘t!

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