Naked Shakespeare's Artistic Director Steps Down

Acorn Productions, producer of the ongoing Naked Shakespeare series of free and low-cost Shakepeare performances, announced that the company's Founding Artistic Director Michael Levine will be handing over leadership of the 14 year-old troupe to Sarah Barlow this fall. The transition marks the first time in the ensemble's history that someone other than Levine will be guiding the ongoing series that has included performances in a wide variety of locations, including the old Wine Bar on Wharf Street, Riverbank Park in Westbrook, the Portland Yacht Services Complex, Battery Steele on Peaks Island, the Portland Musuem of Art, Victoria Mansion, and the Dana Warp Mill. In order to celebrate Levine's tenure, Naked Shakespeare has teamed up with the Fore River Brewing Company in South Portland to offer the "Naked Shakesbeer" series on five consecutive Monday nights beginning on July 16th. These performances feature a reunion of past company members, who team up with actors currently in the ensemble to recreate highlights of Naked Shakespeare's first 14 years. These accessible shows feature sonnets, soliloquies and scenes brought to life without sets, lights or costumes in Fore River's cozy tasting room in South Portland. All shows in this pay-what-you-can series begin at 7pm, and lists of actors and selections for each of the 5 shows can be found on Acorn's website at www.acorn-productions.org.

The Shakesbeer series consists of hour-long performances on consecutive Monday night beginning on July 16th. Long-time Naked Shakespeare fans will recognize the format, which mixes sonnets and soliloquies cued by lines providing modern context along with some background information for pieces that are less self-explanatory. Each show also includes between 4 and 6 short scenes staged environmentally in the rustic tasting room at Fore River. While the specific format for each performance will differ slightly, they all feature 6 actors bringing the text to life in a manner that removes barriers between actors and audience and emphasizes the power of the text's imagery by showcasing the language without the trappings of modern staging conventions. Throughout each show, actors mingle freely in and out of the audience, adding an element of surprise to the pieces, all of which are selected from different plays. Many of the actors performing in the Shakesbeer series are returning to Naked Shakespeare for this reprisal, which provides audience with retrospective journey through the years over the course of the 5 weeks.

"It has been such a great privilege to have worked with all of these fantastic actors over the years," said Levine, "I never expected that from our humble beginnings doing guerilla theater at intermission of a show at SPACE we would have had such a long-term impact on the community." Since the inception of the company in the fall of 2004, Portland has seen a renaissance of productions of the Bard in various formats, and Levine feels proud to have helped inspire a new-found love of Shakespeare's plays by local companies. "When we first started Naked Shakespeare, no one was doing non-traditional performance in alternative venues," continued Levine, "Now there are pop-up shows all over the city." Naked Shakespeare is best known for performing short pieces from a variety of plays with modern context in order to showcase the text's universal themes. Actors increase their ability to work with heightened language through regular workshops, ensuring that Acorn Productions' education mission is served not only by the performances themselves, but also through ongoing training. Levine plans to continue to teach for Acorn while working on a touring lecture/performance about Shakespeare's so-called "apocrypha" plays that may or may not have been written solely or in part by the Bard.

Naked Shakespeare was co-founded by Levine and long-time company Associate Director Michael Howard after the two worked together on a production of Twelfth Night at the Stage at Spring Point. The company's mission has always been to allow audience to experience Shakespeare's text in its original form by stripping away production elements so that the audience's imagination takes center stage. The company features a rotating ensemble of actors, all of whom train regularly with Levine, other Acorn instructors, and guest artists. Over the company's first 14 years, over 100 local actors have performed with Naked Shakespeare in an ongoing series of free and low-cost performances dedicated to inspiring community members to re-experience the language in ways they may not have done so before. Highlights of Levine's tenure include a performance installations of Cymbeline Underground at Battery Steele on Peaks Island and All's Well on the Waterfront in Building 11 at the Portland Yacht Services Complex, The Merchant of Venice at One Longfellow Square, Richard II in the Great Hall at the Portland Museum of Art, a collaboration with the Oratorio Chorale in Bowdoin's chapel, over five years of monthly shows at the Wine Bar on Wharf Street, two performances in Monument Square, countless performances in libraries, schools and retirement communities throughout Southern Maine, and most recently, two and half years of First Friday shows in Mechanics Hall. Sarah Barlow, a Naked Shakespeare company member, will take over the position of Artistic Director of the troupe in the fall of 2018.

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