“Summer’s lease hath all too short a date” as the sonnet goes, so now’s the time to make plans to attend at least one of the dozens of local performances–many for free and en plein air–planned to mark the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death.
At the top of my list is The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) (Revised), performed by the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. Three actors take on the Bard’s entire canon: 37 plays in 97 minutes, in this outrageous spoof that appeals to all ages. “It’s a great way to get families hooked on Shakespeare. You’ll laugh until it almost hurts,” says Doug West, actor, instructor, and the theater’s associate director of education.
I’m betting he’s right. My family loved the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s recent hilarious performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, abbreviated to 65 minutes, and followed by a friendly, informative Q&A with the skillful young actors. For our 12-year-old daughter, it was the perfect introduction to the master poet and playwright, and I felt like we’d discovered a hidden jewel.
“Yes, Broadway is so close that we get overlooked,” says West. “But we have quality, professional performances, and coming here is easier and less expensive than getting into Manhattan.” He encourages everyone to pack a picnic and bring a blanket when you attend the play, performed in the lovely, grass-and-stone amphitheater–inspired by the Athenean Theatre of Dionysus–located in Convent Station, NJ. Tickets for The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) (Revised) are $35 for adults, and kids under age 18 can register to attend free of charge.
For an experience even closer to home, register soon to see Richard II, the historical epic of power, politics, and plotting, in the auditorium of the Montclair Public Library. The free performance by the Hudson Shakespeare Company is scheduled for June 13th, at 7pm.
Of course, there are multiple performances and events for Bard-o-philes in NYC this summer, and many are also gratis:
• Shakespeare Downtown will stage free, outdoor performances of Romeo and Juliet at the historic Castle Clinton National Monument in Battery Park from June 7th-25th.
• Shakespeare in the Park, under the stars at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, runs May 24-September 6th, at no charge, and features The Taming of the Shrew, Twelfth Night, and Troilus and Cressida.
• Shakespeare in the Parking Lot, and Shakespeare in Bryant Park, both produced by The Drilling Company, offer outdoor plays that run from May 19th-September 18th. Attend free performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merchant of Venice, Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It, and Measure for Measure.
• The exhibit First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare, opens at the New York Historical Society on June 7th and runs through July 17th. This rare book contains the first published scripts of 36 of his most famous plays, including Hamlet, Macbeth, and As You Like It. The book, published in 1623, will also be on display at Drew University and The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey from October 3-31st.
• Find more events nationwide here.