A birthday party for Bill

Published 10:29 am Thursday, April 17, 2014

This year will mark the 15th Anniversary Season for the Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival. Here, actors perform a scene from last summer’s performance of “Richard III.” (Photo by Peter Ringenberg)

This year will mark the 15th Anniversary Season for the Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival. Here, actors perform a scene from last summer’s performance of “Richard III.” (Photo by Peter Ringenberg)

SOUTH BEND — Perhaps one of the most recognized writers in the English language — and certainly one of the most influential — William Shakespeare would have turned 450 years old on April 23 of this year.

In celebration of that anniversary, a variety of individuals and organizations from around the State of Indiana have come together to form Shakespeare Across Indiana. This two-year celebration of Shakespeare’s work will include special exhibits, readings, workshops, and live performances.

One of the first events will feature a workshop and an impromptu reading of “Twelfth Night,” hosted by the South Bend Civic Theater (SBCT) in its Firehouse Theater on April 26.

Calling it “A Birthday Party for Bill,” organizers at SBCT have teamed up with Scott Jackson, executive director of Shakespeare at Notre Dame, to present the free reading experience at 3 p.m.

Prior to the reading, from 1 to 2:45 p.m., participants may also attend an optional $15 workshop. In it, Grant Mudge, Ryan producing artistic director of the Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival, will teach participants different ways to access and connect with Shakespeare’s language.

While some would-be participants may feel intimidated by the thought of reading Shakespeare’s sometimes-confusing 17th Century English, Jackson calls the reading situation “informal” and “low-intimidation.” Rather, he sees this as an opportunity to bring Shakespeare to the people.

“We thought this might be a really good way to develop Shakespeare on a grassroots level,” Jackson said. “We’d like to start a series of readings that are based in the curious nature of our community.”

While reading one of Shakespeare’s plays privately can be tedious for a modern reader, Jackson believes that hearing Shakespeare will prove much more interesting, making the playwright’s work more accessible.

“Shakespeare lived in the air, not on the page,” Jackson explained. “It’s a way to directly engage the language of his plays. It’s just an impromptu reading, and from my experience, it works really well.”

Organizers welcome guests who would like to read parts as well as those who would simply like to listen to the reading.

“We’re encouraging everyone to show up, whether they want to read or not,” Jackson said. “I will change the casting from scene to scene, or from act to act, based on who shows up.”

While the event is free, participants need to reserve their spots by calling the SBCT Box Office at (574) 234-1112 or online sbct.org. All ages are welcome to attend, and snacks will be provided.

“We’re trying to put as much fun into it as possible,” Jackson said. “Shakespeare is for all of us. He lives in all of us, and as such, we all bring something individual to his works. That’s our goal.”

For those who can’t get enough of Shakespeare, the organizers of Shakespeare at Notre Dame have a number of other exciting ways that they plan to bring Shakespeare to the people this coming summer and fall. They are currently gearing up for the 15th season of the Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival.

In July, they will present “ShakeScenes” at Washington Hall on the campus of Notre Dame. Coordinated by Christy Burgess, the program will include 20 scenes from various plays, enacted by 20 different groups culled from around the region.

Then, the Young Company will present “The Merry Wives of Windsor” at a number of parks and festivals. Performances are scheduled to take place in Three Oaks, Stevensville and several towns in northern Indiana.

In August, the Professional Company will be staging parts I and II of the history play, “Henry IV,” conflating them into one 2 1/2 hour show, and September will bring a production of “Much Ado About Nothing” from the Actors from the London Stage.

More information about all of these performances can be found at www.shakespeare.nd.edu.