Happy Bard Day!
In one of his oft-quoted sonnets, William Shakespeare writes,
“My glass shall not persuade me I am old, as long as youth and thou are of one
Although the legendary Bard of Avon turns 450 years old this April, his works continue to take on new life — and the inaugural High Country Shakespeare Celebration is here to help.
Hatched by the High Country Theatre League — a coalition of 48 Western North Carolina theater groups — the celebration has been incubating for two years.
“When the theater league was founded in the fall of 2011, it was looking for a project large enough for all 48 of its member groups,” said Keith Martin, John M. Blackburn Distinguished Professor of Theatre at Appalachian State University.
As Shakespeare’s body of work includes some 38 plays and 154 sonnets, the league felt the bard was just the right ticket. And with his 450th birthday around the bend, a celebration was in order.
Although there’s no official record of Shakespeare’s actual birth date, scholars consider April 23, 1564, a likely candidate, since his recorded baptism took place April 25, and baptisms then were typically held two days after one’s birth. Coincidentally, Shakespeare died April 23, 1616.
Three-hundred and 98 years later, the High Country Theatre League will celebrate his life. Martin was clear, however, that this isn’t to be confused with a Shakespeare festival.
“It’s not a festival, because we already have a N.C. Shakespeare Festival,” Martin said, referring to the High Point-based theater company.
Instead, it’s a celebration, Martin said, in which participating theaters present a Shakespeare-based production at no additional cost to themselves. Production costs are derived from their own budgets, and profits remain with each individual theater.
Like so, Avon-icionados can enjoy a bevy of productions, all the way through May.
The celebration officially opened in March at Appalachian State, with ASU Theatre and Dance’s production of “Love’s Labour’s Lost” and a Shakespeare Symposium. Meanwhile, Lees-McRae College and the Society for Creative Anachronism hosted “A Day in the Life of Shakespeare,” where students could essentially travel back in time through reenactments of life in the 16th and 17th centuries.
‘A Part Equal’
From April 4 to 6, Appalachian’s Women’s Theatre Troupe presents “A Part Equal,” an original work by theater lecturer Derek Davidson. The play features prominent women in history, such as Sarah Bernhardt, Margaret Hughes and Virginia Woolf, discussing Shakespeare’s work and how it has influenced their lives.
Show times are 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with a 2 p.m. matinee Sunday, and performances will take place at I.G. Greer Studio Theatre on the ASU campus. Tickets cost $8 for general admission and $5 for students, faculty and staff, and they’re available at the door one hour prior to each performance.
‘Kiss Me, Kate’
From April 11 to 13, audiences can enjoy ASU Theatre and Dance’s production of the Cole Porter classic, “Kiss Me, Kate,” a musical retelling of “The Taming of the Shrew.”
Directed by Martin, the production is part of ASU’s 2013-14 Performing Arts Series and will take place at 8 p.m. April 11 and 12 and 2 p.m. April 13 at the Schaefer Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets cost $15 for general admission and $8 for students and are available online at http://pas.appstate.edu and at the Schaefer Center box office by calling (828) 262-4046.
In/Visible Theatre is leaping into view with its original production, “Kill Will,” also written by Davidson, who, with wife Karen Sabo, is one of the troupe’s founding members.
“Our show … is a collaboratively crafted collection of fight scenes from Shakespeare plays, which we’re assembling just for this region-wide celebration,” said Sabo, In/Visible’s producing director.
According to the original work’s synopsis, In/Visible has gathered scenes from more than a dozen plays, including “King Lear,” “Romeo and Juliet” and “Titus Andronicus,” resulting in a “sublime combination of poetic text and fighting with swords, daggers and even meat pies.”
Sabo expects “Kill Will” to appeal to longtime Shakespeare fans, those who are new to his work and “also to people who like watching adults pretending to stab each other.”
Performances take place April 23 to 27, at 7:30 p.m. each night, at Valborg Theatre on the ASU campus. Tickets are available online at http://invisibletheatrenc.org/current.html, although online purchasing includes a surcharge. Tickets, minus a surcharge, will be available from 1 to 5 p.m. weekdays at the Valborg box office, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays at the Schaefer Center box office and at the Valborg door a half-hour prior to the show.
Bard Birthday Bash
With “Kill Will” opening on the Bard’s birthday, the High Country Theatre League has other celebrations in store for the special day, one of which will be hosted by the Appalachian Theatre of the High Country in the Boone Mall atrium. The Bard Birthday Bash will feature refreshments and revelry, and scenes, songs and other excerpts from the High Country Shakespeare Celebration will be performed.
Another celebration will take place the same day from 2 to 4 p.m. at ASU’s Belk Library and Information Commons. University Libraries will host an open house in the Rhinehart Rare Book and Special Collection Room, during which rare book librarian Greta Browning will display and answer questions about the university’s copy of “Holinshed’s Chronicles.” Refreshments will be offered in room 421.
According to the university, Holinshed published “Chronicles” in 1577, although its 1587 second edition served as Shakespeare’s primary reference work for the bulk of his histories and other plays, including “Macbeth.”
‘Birds of the Bard’
On April 26, Shakespeare goes outdoors with “Birds of the Bard,” a program presented by the local chapter of the Audubon Society. Taking place from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Daniel Boone Native Gardens in Boone, the special event will feature Audubon members recounting the time in 1890 that New York Zoological Society member Eugene Schieffelin successfully introduced every bird mentioned in Shakespeare’s works into Manhattan’s Central Park. The April 26 event will coincide with the gardens’ spring plant sale.
On May 2, Blue Ridge Community Theatre returns from production hiatus with a “Sonnet Slam,” during which performers will present Shakespearean sonnets. The public is invited to participate by reading aloud their favorites or even those of their own making. The slam takes place at 7 p.m. at Bald Guy Brew on King Street in downtown Boone. Free refreshments will be provided, and Blue Ridge is promising a special appearance by the Bard himself, or at least a distant relative.
‘The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)’
Wilkes Playmakers presents the celebrated comedy, “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).” Directed by Daven J. VanHoy, the play condenses every show written by Shakespeare into two hours. Performances will take place May 2, 3, 4, 8, 9, 10 and 11. Show times and ticket information were not available, as of presstime. For more information, call (336) 838-PLAY, or visit http://www.wilkesplaymakers.com.
‘An Evening with the Bard’
In early May, on a date to be determined, Watauga High School’s intermediate acting students will present “An Evening with the Bard,” featuring excerpts from several Shakespearean plays with a unique twist. “Picture ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in Seussian verse,” theater instructor Sarah Miller said.
‘Macbeth: A Radio Drama’
On May 17, Blowing Rock’s Ensemble Stage will present “Macbeth” like you’ve never heard it before. It’s “Macbeth: A Radio Drama,” featuring performers recreating “The Scottish Play” as if it were a radio drama being recorded live in a studio.
Actors will read parts, while creating sound effects live on stage. Show time is 7 p.m. at the Blowing Rock School Auditorium. For ticket information, visit http://www.ensemblestage.com.
With the celebration already under way, Martin is hoping it will bring attention to the area’s bountiful options for theater, while encouraging plenty of “crossover” interest, meaning people will go from theaters they know and love to some with which they’re less familiar.
“Already we have seen folks calling our box office, inquiring as to how they might obtain tickets to Shakespeare Celebration events at other companies, and we are thrilled to assist them,” Martin said. “Good theater begets good theater begets good theater. No matter their point of entry, when audience members have a great time in the theater, they are going to seek out similar experiences — and we have unlimited options from which to choose.”
For more information, visit http://www.highcountryshakespeare.org.