If you’re a fan of Shakespeare, you’re in for a treat.
Over the next two years, local arts, theater and academic groups are banding together to stage all of Shakespeare’s plays, sonnets and poems. It’s the first endeavor of its kind nationwide, say organizers of the Complete Works Project.
Portland Center Stage begins the project with a bang, performing the powerhouse Othello.
“Othello is like a heat-seeking missile. Othello is lean; it is muscular; it is undistractable,” says Portland Center Stage Artistic Director Chris Coleman, who is directing the tragedy.
The lead actor says Othello has great themes for today’s audiences. “One of them is envy, how envy can destroy a person’s soul. Jealousy. How jealousy can eat away at your mind, blind you from the truth. And love, the power of love,” says television and stage actor Daver Morrison of Boston.
Portland Center Stage joins 19 other local theater companies to present 37 Shakespeare plays over two years. The theater groups vary greatly from large and established to small and new. And the performances will stretch from traditional to modern interpretations.
The project makes good business sense because the theater companies will share marketing costs, says Peter Platt, who is a restaurateur, amateur actor and one of the project’s four organizers.
“I think it’s going to be a fun experiment for the Portland arts community which is very diverse but often falls into the trap that everyone’s competing for the same dollars, the few art dollars out there that are still left,” says Platt. “Instead there’s strength in numbers. You can come together, collaborate, create festivals and programming that shares expertise, talent and overhead.”
The project plans to bring in Shakespearean greats to lead workshops. You can also attend a lecture series. Or if you’re a teacher, you can plan a curriculum around a Shakespeare play and take your class to see it performed. Project organizers want teachers to invite theater companies to their schools to perform and talk with students.
“Shakespeare is not taught well in the schools,” says Grant Turner, artistic director of Northwest Classical Theatre Company and the project organizer who hatched the idea of the festival. A goal of the project is to draw students to the Bard, says Turner.
“Once they get in and they see that Shakespeare can be accessible and not that daunting, boring, dry work that they read when they were in class the other day, I think hopefully we’ll build Shakespeare fans for life,” says Turner.
The project embodies Portland’s entrepreneurial spirit, says Turner.
Portland is the perfect launching pad for this unique, collaborative effort, adds Platt.
“In other cities it may be more difficult because you have an artist establishment where collaboration isn’t as easy, whereas Portland is a youthful creative city where those barriers don’t exist and where people don’t take themselves as seriously,” says Platt.
“Why not here? We’re such a town of readers. We’re a town interested in things literary. There is an appetite for seeing these productions. As nutty as it is, it makes good sense spiritually,” says Coleman.
The Bard’s plays sell well in Portland, continues Coleman, partly because some area residents have grown up attending the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.
Project organizers are still planning events with other local arts organizations.
The Complete Works Project formally starts April 23, 2014 on Shakespeare’s 450th birthday and will end April 23, 2016 on the 400th anniversary of his death. For more information, please go to http://www.completeworksproject.org/.
You can also hear more about the project by tuning in to State Of Wonder on Saturday at noon on OPB Radio.