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Boosting Awareness Of Bard's Works

From Florida to Alaska, high school students will see Shakespeare on professional stages in their own communities during the next school year.

The second phase of an ambitious National Endowment for the Arts program was to be announced Friday in Washington, D.C. Twenty-two theater companies will participate in the $1 million "Shakespeare for a New Generation," according to Dana Gioia, NEA chairman.

"We want to make sure that students in high school have the experience of great theater," Gioia said by telephone from Washington. "You can't just experience Shakespeare on the page."

"Shakespeare for a New Generation" is part two of the NEA's program "Shakespeare in American Communities," which has had six professional theater companies touring more than 100 cities in all 50 states. This summer, a seventh troupe will tour 16 military bases.

Each of the 22 companies in the second phase will receive matching grants, ranging from $10,000 to $30,000, to help with their presentations during the 2004-2005 school year, Gioia said.

Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven, Conn., for example, will bring in students next March with help from the NEA grant to see "The Comedy of Errors." This season, under its own auspices, the theater brought in some 2,700 students to see "King Lear" starring Avery Brooks, and it hopes to bring in more than that for "The Comedy of Errors."

"One of the great virtues of Shakespeare is that he is perhaps the most generous playwright who ever wrote," said James Bundy, artistic director of Yale Rep. "So there is a something in every Shakespeare play for people of all ages to hang onto."

In addition, many English teachers will be planning their curriculum around what is being done in the local theaters, Gioia said, adding that the Arts Endowment will be providing educational materials to help those classrooms.

At San Diego Repertory Theatre in California, students will see a production of "King Lear" next spring, says Sam Woodhouse, the Rep's producing and artistic director.

"There is a whole in-school and at-the-theater component," Woodhouse said. "We will be spending a substantial amount of time in five to 10 different schools."

Woodhouse said professional actors will not only work with students, helping them perform monologues from "King Lear" for their peers, but that the students would also meet the production's designers and artistic collaborators in the theater before seeing the play.

The 22 theater companies selected to participate in the Shakespeare for a New Generation program:

  • Alaska Theatre of Youth, Eccentric Theatre Company & Edgware (Anchorage, Alaska): "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and others
  • American Players Theatre (Spring Green, Wis.): "Twelfth Night" and "Othello"
  • Asolo Theatre, Inc. (Sarasota, Fla.): "A Midsummer Night's Dream"
  • Atlanta Shakespeare Company (Atlanta, Ga.): several productions
  • Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park (Cincinnati): "Twelfth Night"
  • Hartford Stage Company (Hartford, Conn.): "Othello"
  • Idaho Shakespeare Festival (Boise, Idaho): "The Tempest" or "The Merry Wives of Windsor"
  • Indiana Repertory Theatre, Inc. (Indianapolis): "A Midsummer Night's Dream"
  • Montana Shakespeare in the Parks (Bozeman, Mont.): "A Midsummer Night's Dream"
  • Perseverance Theatre (Douglas, Ark.): "Macbeth"
  • San Diego Repertory Theatre (San Diego): "King Lear"
  • Shakespeare & Company (Lenox, Mass.): "Julius Caesar"
  • Shakespeare Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz, Calif.): "Henry IV, Part I"
  • Tacoma Actors Guild (Tacoma, Wash.): "A Comedy of Errors"
  • The People's Light & Theatre Company (Malvern, Pa.): "A Midsummer Night's Dream"
  • The Shakespeare Festival at Tulane (New Orleans): "Macbeth"
  • The Shakespeare Theatre (Washington, D.C.): "Macbeth," "Pericles" and "Julius Caesar"
  • The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey (Madison, N.J.): "Hamlet," "A Midsummer Night's Dream," "Macbeth" and "Henry V"
  • The Theater at Monmouth (Monmouth, Maine): "The Merry Wives of Windsor"
  • Utah Shakespearean Festival (Cedar City, Utah): "The Taming of the Shrew"
  • The Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum (Topanga, Calif.): "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "The Winter's Tale"
  • Yale Repertory Theatre (New Haven, Conn.): "The Comedy of Errors"
  • The Hobart Shakespeareans (Los Angeles), under the direction of Players' Guild member and National Medal of Arts winner Rafe Esquith, have been engaged for special summer performances in Los Angeles.

By Michael Kuchwara
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