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Sonnets on the Street

Ellen Levitt

Posted on May 3, 2019 16:31

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I attended "Shakespeare on Stratford," a wonderful celebration of William Shakespeare's sonnets, which showcased a selection of the Bard's poems read on a Brooklyn street.

There are people who truly love the works of William Shakespeare, and there are many people who fake a smile when asked if they do. Too many folks still view Shakespeare as merely quaint, starchy and dull, as the stuff of classroom assignments. Those who do enjoy the Bard's work have wondered how to encourage more people to take delight in his works.

Recently I attended an event that brought to life, in a simple but electrifying manner, a selection of Shakespeare's sonnets. These works were not just meant to be read and deciphered in high school or college literature courses; they were meant to be heard live. And the "Shakespeare on Stratford" celebration achieved that on a sunny springtime Sunday.

On the last Sunday in April (which brought together both Poetry Month and Shakespeare's birthday) the acting troupe called the Brave New World Repertory Theatre performed 15 of Shakespeare's sonnets in a most unusual manner: each sonnet was read by an actor or actress, clad in vaguely Elizabethan garb, on a residential street actually named Stratford Road, in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn.

Some of the thespians recited while standing or sitting on the porches of houses (the neighborhood is known for its many impressive Victorian-style homes) while others stood at the curb, even swinging around trees and street signs or crouching by lawns to recite to young children.

The actors and actresses ranged in age and represented different ethnic groups and races. We got to hear various sonnets, and each actor or actress repeatedly recited his or her selected sonnet, over the space of an hour, so that attendees could stroll up and down the street and hear the works. 

It was a lot of fun, and a casual, "drop in" way to view theater. It was also a good way to put emphasis on a lesser-known segment of Shakespeare's canon. 

And while I didn't stay around for the 40 minutes of sing-a-long madrigals nor the 20 minute dance finale, I felt it was a wonderful experience. And this kind of event has a lot of possibilities. The format could be used for other writers' and playwrights' work. Schools could use this, in individual classrooms or on a whole-school level. Religious congregations could bring to life biblical writings, the Psalms, the Proverbs, in such a setting as performed by congregants or professional actors. 

There was something very relaxed yet professional and invigorating about this mini-festival. It was more interactive than sitting in a theater seat, and less self-conscious than a poetry slam reading at a nightclub (or library). It was down to earth, yet we knew that the troupe had to put in a good deal of effort to make this work as well as it did. (And fortune smiled upon us all because the weather report of on-off rain did not burden us!) I would love to see this become a yearly event and put into practice elsewhere. Huzzah! 

Ellen Levitt

Posted on May 3, 2019 16:31

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Source: Variety

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