This year marks the 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare, spurring area literary and theatrical organizations to plan events to honor the Bard.
“It’s much ado about … me, quite frankly,” said Shakespeare, as performed by actor Brian McCann who strutted and fretted at the Free Library of Philadelphia on Wednesday dressed in ruffled collar and pantaloons.
The library is coordinating its events and those of its partner organizations to shrink that four-century gap. Actors from the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, dressed in contemporary garb, performed an excerpt from their upcoming production of “Romeo and Juliet.”
The play is a favorite of high school senior Shadyrra Stubbs, who performed the lead role last year in a production of the West Philadelphia High School drama club. She discovered a personal connection to the work: like the title characters, Stubbs is from two opposing worlds. She grew up with her father in Harleysville, Pennsylvania, then recently moved in with her mother in West Philadelphia.
“Moving to West Philadelphia, I seen a different hardship, this life and that life,” said Stubbs of the suburban-urban culture clash. “How my dad wanted me to be this person and my mom wanted me to be myself. Growing up, I realized which side I wanted to choose. I really found myself.”
Stubbs will soon audition for West Philadelphia High’s upcoming production of “Macbeth.”
Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre is spending this year trying to inspire that kind of excitement about Shakespeare throughout the city. Every month, it will present Shakespeare-related events, including a hip-hop theater artist imported from England to work with teens on a Shakespeare play, and the one-man show, “I, Hamlet,” at the Fringe Festival in the fall.
Executive director Carmen Kahn says Shakespeare’s plays don’t need alterations to make them seem contemporary.
“I take issue with that — to make it seem contemporary,” said Kahn. “Once you experience it, you can’t help but think it’s relevant and contemporary. Our job is to get people in, and get them excited. It is accessible — the language, the ideas, and the universality of the feelings. If it’s done well, it is contemporary.”
The Free Library on Philadelphia will exhibit a first folio of Shakespeare plays dating back 350 years, and additional Shakespeare-related manuscripts through its new partnership with the Rosenbach Museum in Rittenhouse Square. More events are listed here.