Weeklong Shakespeare Fest Celebrates the Bard's 450th Birthday

By Mathew Katz on April 21, 2014 6:35am 

Will-A-Thon Shakespeare Festival
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Workshop Theater Company

HELL'S KITCHEN — A group of intrepid actors will spend a week performing Shakespeare's most memorable scenes and sonnets in an annual celebration of the playwright's work.  

The 11th annual Will-A-Thon Bard-Stravaganza kicks off six nights of Bard-centric performances at the Workshop Theater Company on Monday night, focusing less on sets, costumes and production values, and instead hoping to get Shakespeare's words across to modern audiences.

"Shakespeare's language is the star. We speak it intelligibly, so it does not sound like a foreign language," said Charles E. Gerber, a 33-year resident of Hell's Kitchen, who leads the festival. "We want to perform it so an alert 10-year-old who is just discovering the complexities of this language can go and be mesmerized for all the right reasons."

The festival, which runs Monday through Saturday and falls on Shakespeare's 450th birthday, is made up of three shows highlighting the Bard's work.

"The great thing about Shakespeare is he guides you to know what the opportune word is in a sentence, whether it's poetry or prose. It's wonderful," Gerber said. 

On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the festival will feature "Will's Way," a night of scenes, speeches and soliloquies featuring students of Will's Playshop, a Shakespeare workshop taught by Gerber.

"Will's Way" has an eclectic mix of scenes from "Richard II," "Hamlet" and "King Lear, plus a tawdry scene in a brothel from the lesser-known "Pericles."

On Tuesday and Thursday, the players will perform "For Thy Sweet Love Rememb'red," a collection of romantic sonnets, scenes and songs of love, with some of Shakespeare's more obscure works set to music and performances by Tony Award-winning actor Richard Easton.

The festival will culminate in a Saturday-night collection of Shakespearean scenes featuring Easton as the lead.

"Doing so many of his works, it borders on the impossible," Gerber said. "But Shakespeare lifts you up and makes you brighter, even for just a moment."

The Will-A-Thon festival runs from April 21 to April 26 at the Workshop Theater Company at 312 W. 36th St. Tickets are available online for $18 per show, $15 for students and seniors, or $25 to see all three performances. 

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