NEW YORK (AP) — Playing the mad title role in Shakespeare's "King Lear" was never supposed to be easy. That's just what Colm Feore wanted.
The classical actor chose to make his Lear "absolutely hateful" and "corrosive" for the Stratford Festival in Canada this past summer. He turned 56 in the role and his Lear, recorded on high-definition cameras, is a vigorous, fit monarch.
"If you do it properly, you should be legless and speechless from scene to scene. And I decided to do it that way," Feore said. "It takes an enormous amount of energy and I think a certain amount of balls and daring to do it at all."
The same could be said for what the Stratford Festival intends to do with the movie: It will kick off a massive initiative to film and broadcast all of Shakespeare's plays over the next 10 years.
Feore's "Lear," which hits 350 movie screens across America on Feb. 25, leads the way, with "King John" following in April and "Antony and Cleopatra" in May. Three or four new films will be broadcast each year as part of the almost $40 million effort.
The attempt to bring the complete works of William Shakespeare to audiences around the world is the first by a North American arts organization and the dream of the Festival's artistic director Antoni Cimolino, who also directed "King Lear."
"For the almost 400 million people that live on this continent, and for young people especially, hearing the language spoken the way they speak it is very important because then you realize that Shakespeare is not foreign," Cimolino said. "He belongs to all of us. It's our birthright."
The company has a seven-month season every year with about a dozen plays in four Ontario venues performed by some 120 actors. Performing Shakespeare is at its core — there are usually three of four of his plays done a season. But works also range from ancient Greek plays to modern tales.
Feore, who has logged 17 seasons with the company, was called on to do more than just Lear last year. He alternated the role with a part in the romantic comedy of manners "The Beaux' Stratagem."
The actor, who has joined the Fox series "Gotham" as the Dollmaker, said not doing his Lear for eight shows a week likely made his performance even better.
"I could shred the voice. I could be physically destroyed and emotionally completely finished at the end of every performance knowing that I had a day or so to recover," he said.
Cimolino will decide which upcoming shows will be recorded after seeing how audiences respond. "When it really works well for the audience, it works well for the camera, we've found."
Down the line, he also hopes the possibility of broadcasting a Shakespeare play live might be attempted. "We wanted to walk before we ran," he said.
The live cinema event company BY Experience is helping distribute The Bard's canon. Julie Borchard-Young, who runs BY Experience with her husband, Robert, said theater-goers will now be able to sample great Shakespeare productions without having to cross the northern border.
"It's not really realistic to expect audiences be able to visit in person at all times so this is a really great way for Stratford to reach them where they are," she said. "We hope the Stratford series will really excite viewers across the U.S. and they'll support it and it will have a chance to grow."
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits