'Shakespeare LIVE!' Begins Spring NJ Tour

On Tuesday, January 25, The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey's acclaimed educational touring company, Shakespeare LIVE!, will launch a six-month tour to schools and other venues with two of Shakespeare's most popular plays: A Midsummer Night's Dream and Macbeth. On April 20, the company will add Henry V to its repertoire. Major funding for the spring 2005 tour, which will continue through June 10, is provided by a generous $25,000 grant from Kraft Foods. A $25,000 award from the National Endowment for the Arts in cooperation with Arts Midwest enables Shakespeare LIVE! to perform at economically disadvantaged schools in underserved rural, suburban and urban areas in the tri-state region, as part of the Shakespeare in American Communities national initiative, Shakespeare for a New Generation. Additional major funding for Shakespeare LIVE! is provided by the Bailye Family Charitable Foundation, FirstEnergy Foundation, The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey, JPMorgan Chase Foundation, Pfizer, PSE&G, RBC Dain Rauscher Foundation, The Turrell Fund, Van Pelt Foundation and Verizon.

Now in its ninth season, Shakespeare LIVE! brings professional actors and guest artist-educators to schools and other venues throughout the tri-state region, where they perform abridged productions of Shakespeare's plays, engage in post-show discussions with students and family audiences, and conduct interactive theatre workshops. The company is renowned for its energetic and vibrant productions, and for its ability to make Shakespeare's plays appealing and accessible to children as young as eight as well as longtime Shakespeare fans.

Artistic director Bonnie J. Monte explains, "Although the plays are abridged to be performed within a class period, Shakespeare LIVE! prides itself on keeping Shakespeare's text intact. We aim to maintain the clarity of the story and the beauty of his unparalleled language."

Ms. Monte directs the colorful, 60-minute version of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Brightly-clad fairies on skates and scooters whirl through an enchanted umbrella forest, where a band of comic rustics clumsily rehearse a play, and four young lovers fall under a magical spell. This raucous production is a thrilling "first Shakespeare" for children as young as eight and a riotous roller-coaster ride for all ages.

Shakespeare's gripping tragedy Macbeth will spur discussions of politics, power and ethics in this edgy, hour-long production designed especially for grades seven and up. Cryptic prophecies, vaulting ambition and an "upwardly mobile" wife plunge Macbeth into a maelstrom of deception, which sweeps the noble warrior relentlessly toward his doom. This exciting, new production highlights the themes of paranoia, evil and corruption through the use of stark lighting and imaginative sound design. Macbeth is directed by Brian B. Crowe, who The Star-Ledger lauds as "one of the state's most ingenious directors."

In April, Shakespeare LIVE! will debut a 60-minute version of Henry V for grades six and above. A young and inexperienced king of England, threatened by rebellious nobles and the massive armies of France, leads a ragtag band of soldiers in a desperate attempt to preserve his throne and consolidate his power. Shakespeare's great history play, in this exciting new touring adaptation, is a stirring commentary on war, patriotism, courage and the makings of a great leader. Craig A. Miller, who recently mounted Henry V for the Theatre's Next Stage Ensemble, returns to direct.

Shakespeare LIVE! in American Communities

In 2004, Shakespeare LIVE! was selected, along with 21 other theatre companies from across the nation, to participate in Shakespeare in American Communities: Shakespeare for a New Generation, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts in cooperation with Arts Midwest. The largest Shakespeare tour in American history, the program brings professional theatre productions and related educational activities to communities in all 50 states.

Through NEA support, twelve economically disadvantaged schools have already benefited from a Shakespeare LIVE! performance or workshop, during the fall 2004 semester. Due to financial constraints, these schools — in Camden, West New York and Burlington, New Jersey; Stamford, Connecticut; and Staten Island, New York — were previously unable to provide a live Shakespeare performance for their students. This spring, the Shakespeare in American Communities initiative will bring Shakespeare LIVE! to schools in Staten Island, West New York, Camden and Vineland, New Jersey. Applications for NEA-sponsored performances are still being accepted. Call 973-408-3980 for additional information.

Last fall, Shakespeare LIVE! performed for grades six through eight at Intermediate School 2 (I.S. 2) on Staten Island. Among the students who enjoyed the performance was a seventh-grader named Guadalupe, who commented, "I had a wonderful time. It was a great experience that I never will forget because it was my first live play." Alice Miller, a social worker with I.S. 2, added that more than 300 middle school students "sat in rapt attention while the eight actors wove their magic. The students were excited and ready to engage the actors with their questions. A resounding appeal was made to have the company return."

Bringing Shakespeare LIVE! to your school

Reservations are currently being accepted for the spring 2005 Shakespeare Live! tour. Hour-long versions of A Midsummer Night's Dream and Macbeth are available in schools from January 25 through June 10; Henry V is available from April 20 through June 10.

Prior to each performance, teachers receive a comprehensive study guide that contains invaluable tools for enhancing students' appreciation and understanding of Shakespeare, developed especially for this program by Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey educators. The study guide provides important historical information, an introduction to the language, a scene-by-scene synopsis of the play and thematic perspectives, as well as classroom exercises, curriculum tie-ins, and topics for discussion. As an added bonus, the program enables teachers to fulfill specific New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards in the areas of Visual and Performing Arts, Language Arts Literacy and Social Studies.

The Shakespeare LIVE! experience also includes a post-performance discussion, during which students and teachers have the opportunity to ask questions and engage in a dialogue with the actors.

Shakespeare LIVE! performance fees are $850 for a single performance; $1,600 for two performances on the same day; and $1,650 for two performances on different days. If your school is economically disadvantaged, you may apply for an NEA-supported performance by contacting Jamie Brink-Grant at 973-408-3980 or jbgrant@ShakespeareNJ.org.

Shakespeare LIVE! also offers the interactive workshops Shakespeare in Performance, an introduction to speaking Shakespeare's language, and Stage Combat. These unique introductory workshops, conducted by professional actors and guest artist-educators, are designed for up to 30 participants. Tailored to the students' grade level, each workshop provides a focused arena in which to study concepts relating to Shakespeare and live theatre. Workshops may be booked singularly or in conjunction with a Shakespeare LIVE! performance. Workshop fees begin at $350 for a two-hour session. For reservations or additional information about Shakespeare LIVE! programs, call 973-408-3980 or e-mail jbgrant@ShakespeareNJ.org.

Upcoming public performances

Special public performances by Shakespeare LIVE! are offered at venues throughout New Jersey and in New York. At The Shakespeare Theatre's Main Stage in Madison, A Midsummer Night's Dream will be performed on Saturday, February 5 at 2:00 p.m.; Macbeth will play on Sunday, February 6 at 2:00 p.m.; and Shakespeare LIVE! will debut the latest addition to its repertoire, Henry V, on Saturday, April 23 at 2:00 p.m.. Tickets are $10, including a post-performance discussion with the actors. Educators with valid school I.D. are offered up to two complimentary tickets each.

During the statewide celebration of the New Jersey Theatre Alliance's Family Week at the Theatre, children and teens age 18 and under receive free admission to the Shakespeare LIVE! performances of A Midsummer Night's Dream at the historic Strand Theatre in Lakewood, N.J. on Monday, March 7 at 6:30 p.m.; A Midsummer Night's Dream at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey in Madison on Wednesday, March 9 and Thursday, March 10, both at 7:00 p.m.; and Macbeth on Friday, March 11 at 7:00 p.m., also at The Shakespeare Theatre in Madison. Adult tickets are $10, including up to two free tickets for young people age 18 and under. For tickets to A Midsummer Night's Dream The Strand Theatre, call 732-367-7789. For tickets to performances at The Shakespeare Theatre in Madison, call 973-408-5600.

For additional information, including a complete list of upcoming public performances throughout the region by Shakespeare LIVE!, visit www.ShakespeareNJ.org and click on "Touring Companies."

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