NEA, Arts Midwest to bring Shakespeare to all 50 states

WASHINGTON — The chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts says he hopes the upcoming 100-community tour of Shakespearean plays by six theater companies will spur other NEA-funded theatrical tours.

Dana Gioia, NEA’s new topper, said he hopes the program, the largest tour of Shakespeare in U.S. history, “will reinvigorate the longstanding tradition of theatrical touring” by regional troupes.

The pilot initiative to bring Shakespeare to all 50 states begins in September (Variety, April 7-13). Called “Shakespeare in American Communities,” it will be managed by Minneapolis-based Arts Midwest. Professional theater companies including the Guthrie Theater will bring full productions of “Othello,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Richard III” and “Midsummer Night’s Dream” to schools, military bases and other facilities throughout the U.S. NEA will ante roughly half of the expected $3 million cost of the tour.

First lady, Valenti aboard

First lady Laura Bush and MPAA prez Jack Valenti will serve as honorary chairs for the project, which will include a large educational component geared for students. It will offer workshops with actors, condensed versions of Shakespeare plays and recitations of famous soliloquies. It will also include a new Players’ Guild, a group of arts experts and accomplished actors who are lending their support to the project.

Other participating theater companies include the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, New York’s Acting Co., Gotham’s Aquila Theater, the Arkansas Repertory Theater and Artists Repertory Theater of Portland, Ore. Gioia says a seventh company will also be added to the tour to play military bases exclusively.

“Shakespeare is a part of the American culture, and has been since the beginning,” said Gioia. But he noted that most U.S. students have never seen live drama on stage. The NEA chieftain said he intends to initiate projects of similar scale within other arts disciplines.

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