HomeEntertainmentShakespeare Everywhere — but not a doublet in sight

Shakespeare Everywhere — but not a doublet in sight

Misery may acquaint a man with strange bedfellows, as William Shakespeare wrote. But if a new festival celebrating the work of the Bard is any indication, a happy coincidence can be just as effective at uniting disparate entities.

Consider the origins of the inaugural Shakespeare Everywhere Festival, which launches Oct. 7 and runs through Dec. 31 at various D.C. venues. When Simon Godwin, the artistic director of the Shakespeare Theatre Company, committed to directing Charles Gounod’s “Romeo and Juliet” adaptation this fall for the Washington National Opera, the collaboration sparked conversations about inter-organization synergy across the area’s stages.

What began months ago as chatter between Godwin and WNO Artistic Director Francesca Zambello soon brought in other local artistic leaders, who looked at this fall’s already-set offerings — including “Macbeth in Stride” and “As You Like It” at the Shakespeare Theatre and “Fat Ham” at Studio Theatre — and saw a slew of productions reviving, reimagining or riffing on Shakespeare’s oeuvre.

“There was just this kind of larger recognition,” says Drew Lichtenberg, an associate director at the Shakespeare Theatre who took a lead role in curating the festival. “People were saying, ‘Huh, there’s a lot of Shakespeare that’s happening this coming fall, and, in fact, every fall in D.C. So we should really put a flag down and celebrate the fact that we are the national home for Shakespeare.’”

Organized by Lichtenberg and festival coordinator Charlotte La Nasa, Shakespeare Everywhere quickly expanded its mission from bringing those planned productions under one umbrella to a more ambitious undertaking.

For starters, the experimental opera troupe In Series scheduled a remounting of the “King Lear”-inspired “The Promised End” — previously staged in 2018 — with the festival in mind. (“I’m a Shakespeare fanatic,” Artistic Director Timothy Nelson says. “I was more than happy to throw out the plans I had just to schedule a remount of this production.”) The Folger Theatre’s staging of “The Winter’s Tale,” the first show in its Elizabethan Theatre since 2020, when renovation began on its building, was also added to the festival slate. So was the Washington Ballet’s production of “Such Sweet Thunder,” Duke Ellington’s Shakespearean suite. And the festival will be threaded together by a lecture series with renowned Shakespearean scholar Marjorie Garber.

Ultimately, Shakespeare Everywhere ended up with six key partners — three theaters (Shakespeare Theatre, Studio and the Folger), two opera organizations (WNO and In Series) and a ballet company (the Washington Ballet). As the organizers considered the array of unconventional offerings, they leaned into that identity and structured ancillary programming around themes of pushing boundaries and elevating underrepresented voices.

“If there’s anything audiences should know going into this festival, it’s that you will not see any doublet and hose,” La Nasa says. “This is innovative Shakespeare at its most audacious.”

Take “Macbeth in Stride,” which kicks off the festival with an Oct. 10-29 run at Shakespeare Theatre’s Klein Theatre. Written by and starring Whitney White, the musical mash-up uses Lady Macbeth as a prism through which the show examines life as an ambitious Black woman in the 21st century. Black perspectives are also centered in “Fat Ham” (Oct. 25-Dec. 3 at Studio Theatre), playwright James Ijames’s backyard barbecue-set reinterpretation of “Hamlet” that won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for drama. With director Tamilla Woodard at the helm, “The Winter’s Tale” (Nov. 4-Dec. 13 at the Folger) centers the voice of another Black artist.

The operas “Romeo and Juliet” (Nov. 4-18 at the Kennedy Center) and “The Promised End” (Nov. 18-Dec. 10 at the Source Theatre) and ballet “Such Sweet Thunder” (Oct. 26-29 at the Warner Theatre) further challenge the forms in which Shakespeare is traditionally interpreted, as does Shakespeare Theatre’s 1960s spin on “As You Like It” (Dec. 2-31 at Harman Hall).

“We’re not trying to produce any kind of aesthetic-purity-test version of Shakespeare,” Lichtenberg says. “We’re really interested in the diversity and the ‘Shakespeare everywhere’ — that Shakespeare is, in fact, something that informs or transcends or goes above these cultural boundaries that we often like to think that he exists within.”

Along the way, Garber, a Harvard professor whose book “Shakespeare After All” was foundational to Nelson’s creation of “The Promised End,” will host five lectures (Oct. 23-25 and Nov. 15-16, at venues including Theater J, the Aspen Institute and the Library of Congress). Having joined the festival through a grant from Humanities DC, Garber will use each session to explore specific themes — such as Shakespeare’s timeliness or the ways in which music intersects with his work — that resonate across the various productions.

“It’s been exhilarating for me,” Garber says of planning the lectures. “I love the idea of this project. I love that it’s citywide in this way, and that audiences for these various performances — and maybe even for the talks — will go from one place to another. It has a kind of civic quality to it that I like so much, that might remind one of Shakespeare’s England and Shakespeare’s London.”

The festival also will include an evening of music and dance billed as “The Bard & the Beat” (Dec. 6 at the Kennedy Center), a National Gallery of Art exhibition called “Will’s World: European Literature in Shakespeare’s Time” (Nov. 27-Dec. 29) and a panel discussion with D.C. arts leaders (Dec. 9 at the Folger).

Although there are no firm plans to turn Shakespeare Everywhere into an annual fixture, its organizers say they are open to remounting it for many falls to come should audiences embrace the fledgling event.

“There is an incredible amount of innovative, beautiful, excellent artwork being made here by, often by local artists,” says Nelson, the In Series artistic director. “So a chance to really raise that up on a three-month-long platform — and Shakespeare being the crucible through which we do it — is an amazing opportunity.”

Shakespeare Everywhere Festival

Various venues. shakespeareeverywheredc.com.

Prices: Consult festival website for ticket pricing. Some special events are free but require reservations.

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