D.C. loves Shakespeare Festival

Bard is a boon for nation's capital

WASHINGTON — With one month remaining before the wrap of D.C.’s Shakespeare Festival, Michael Kahn is one happy fellow.

“It has galvanized this city,” says the festival curator and a.d. of the city’s Shakespeare Theater. He is talking, of course, about the six-month, citywide Bard-athon that launched in January, featuring more than 100 Shakespeare-related events from some 60 cultural groups.

Far more than theater is represented. Museums, dance and opera are among the local and international orgs toasting the Bard. Recently, for example, the Washington National Opera presented Verdi’s “Macbeth” at the Kennedy Center, while the Gotham-based Pick Up Performance Company offered “Dance Henry Five” at the U. of Maryland.

Kahn calls the nation’s capital a fertile market for the broadly focused Shakespeare examination, with its large following of Shakespeare enthusiasts who support several growing classical theater troupes. Even so, ample publicity by local media has generated large turnouts for venues of all sizes, along with heavy crossover of arts fans to other disciplines.

Kahn says he knew something good was happening when the Kennedy Center filled its 1,100-seat Eisenhower Theater for a single performance of “The Trial of Hamlet” in March, an ad-libbed event that featured U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Kennedy delivered a socko perf as himself — a no-nonsense jurist presiding over the timeless question of whether Hamlet should stand trial for the murder of Polonius or be excused for his mental condition. (The jury split 6-6.)

Tix were in such demand for the Shakespeare Theater-KenCen co-production it was moved from the center’s 500-seat Terrace Theater. Other participants included Court TV anchor and former Texas state judge Catherine Crier, and several prominent attorneys.

Business at the Folger Theater indicates auds show no sign of high-culture fatigue. The tiny Elizabethan theater on Capitol Hill is experiencing a record season, with its third straight year of increased subscriptions. Not only did Folger’s January production of “King Lear” play to full houses, but more than half the patrons were first-time visitors to the theater, according to reps.

Kahn claims another huge payout for the local arts community has been the unexpectedly rewarding experience of collaborations, a first-time occurrence for many orgs. He says several a.d.’s have voiced their intention to share titles in the future.

For its final production of the festival, Kahn’s Shakespeare Theater will present “Hamlet.” And it’s no coincidence that the nearby Studio Theater is mounting a simultaneous production of Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.”

Studio a.d. Joy Zinoman says she wasn’t initially interested in participating, but succumbed to Kahn’s entreatiesand is already glad she did. Not only did advance sales warrant an extension for the production, which opened May 20, but she says 21% of advance single tickets are from out-of-towners clearly intending to catch both shows, which is well above the 5% norm.

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