NEA takes Shakespeare on tour

Guthrie's 'Othello' will visit 20 cities

WASHINGTON — Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, has a message for America: The Bard is back.

Starting in September, at least six professional theater companies will take Shakespeare to more than 100 small and midsized communities in all 50 states. Called “Shakespeare in American Communities,” the initiative “is intended to make professional theater a vital part of the cultural environment of smaller communities,” Gioia told a House subcommittee hearing here. He called it “the largest theatrical tour of Shakespeare in American history.”

The new NEA topper, a poet who took over the embattled post last month, unveiled the plans March 13, during his first congressional appearance. He said the initiative will be launched in partnership with Minneapolis-based regional org Arts Midwest. It “will not only celebrate the works of our language’s greatest playwright, but also revive a great American theatrical tradition dating back to the early days of the republic,” he said.

Bringing the Bard to local theaters and schools, as well as military bases and Native American communities, demonstrates the NEA’s commitment to artistic excellence, public outreach and arts education, Gioia told the subcommittee.

The NEA declined to offer specifics about the initiative, including the project’s budget. A rep said the NEA will seek private funding sources to supplement NEA coin.

Variety has learned a major component of the initiative will be a 20-community tour of “Othello” by Minneapolis’ Guthrie Theater from January to May 2004.

Other participants include the Chicago Shakespeare Theater and Arkansas Repertory Theater, both doing “Romeo and Juliet”; New York’s Acting Co. (“Richard III”); and Gotham’s Aquila Theater (“Othello”). Artists Repertory Theater of Portland, Ore., reportedly will perform “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” with actors from the National Theater of Vietnam.

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