- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 2, 2005

Come January 2007, all of Washington will seem a stage and its leading cultural institutions players in an ambitious six-month citywide festival devoted entirely to the works and influence of William Shakespeare.

More than 20 local, national and international organizations are scheduled to participate in the venture, called “Shakespeare In Washington,” which will take place in various venues, including theater, dance, music and visual-art institutions from January through June 2007.

Overseas institutions scheduled to take part in the artistic celebration include Russia’s Kirov Ballet and Opera and England’s Royal Shakespeare Company, both at the Kennedy Center.

“There is no artist who has influenced so many people, who has meant so much and has given so much to people as Shakespeare,” said Michael Kahn, the artistic director of the Shakespeare Theatre in Northwest, yesterday at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

“This festival is not only about his genius as a playwright, but about his enormous influence on all the other arts.”

2007 also happens to be the 75th anniversary of the Folger library in Southeast, noted library director Gail Kern Paster.

“We had determined that we wanted to remind the United States, and certainly D.C., that we have the world’s largest Shakespeare collection,” she said. “These are events Folger had planned independently, but it is just that we will be able to share with other organizations.”

In addition to a special exhibit titled “Shakespeare in American Life” at the library, one of the more unusual offerings will be a production there of “Lone Star Love,” a country-western style rendition of “The Merry Wives of Windsor” with music by the Red Clay Ramblers. The National Building Museum plans to commission new sets for the Shakespeare plays.

Both Mr. Kahn and Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser — the man credited with originating the idea two years ago — termed the event unprecedented. A Web site for the festival has been set up at www.kennedy-center.org/shakespeare.

Mr. Kahn will act as artistic director or “curator,” a role he described as “making connections” among the various entities involved.

“Only in D.C. could this happen,” he said. “There isn’t a night in Washington where something about Shakespeare is not performed or spoken.”

An ancillary goal is to “foster much closer relationships among arts institutions in Washington,” Mr. Kaiser said.

The unique size and scope of the planned festival are further confirmation, if any were needed, of the enduring cultural influence of Shakespeare.

“You have this great theatrical genius whose works continue to enchant,” Ms. Paster said.

“In large part because of historical interest in Shakespeare, the best artistic talents have wanted to explore the work. There is something intrinsic in Shakespeare — an expressiveness — that keeps drawing people back to respond to the works. That cultural habit of responding breeds responses in future generations.”

Also on the schedule will be Shakespeare Theatre productions of “Richard III” and “Cymbeline,” the Kirov Ballet’s presentation of the 1940 version of “Romeo and Juliet,” Shakespeare-inspired music performed by the National Symphony Orchestra, seven short original works by the Washington Ballet titled “7X7: Shakespeare,” a Signature Theatre cabaret featuring songs from the American musical theater based on Shakespeare’s works and screen adaptations of Shakespeare’s classics at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center in Maryland.

Mr. Kahn will direct an interdisciplinary production of a Shakespeare-inspired composition by Duke Ellington at the National Museum of American History.

The Kennedy Center’s programming office will coordinate the festival and help with marketing, but participating organizations are responsible for funding their own efforts.

Partnering isn’t new to local cultural entities. Actors frequently are seen on different theater companies’ stages, and entire troupes have been quartered in one another’s space.

Nor are large thematic festivals unknown, although lately Mr. Kaiser has upped the ante considerably with his creation of the successful Sondheim Celebration in 2002. Shakespeare Theatre was part of Kennedy Center’s Tennessee Williams festival last year.

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