LB Shakespeare Company celebrates Bard’s birthday with various activities

Submitted by Lauren Stone

This April 26, Shakespeare would have turned 446 years old. While the man may not still be with us, his legacy has left an indelible footprint on the world. His plays are constantly told and retold through fresh eyes and are the core of the Long Beach Shakespeare Company.
Coming off a successful run of Macbeth, the Long Beach Shakespeare Company is beginning a month-long birthday celebration for their namesake. Beginning Saturday, April 10 with the results of the first Shakespeare Sonnet Writing Contest, three lucky students will receive prizes for their work replicating the Shakespearean or Elizabethan sonnet, an event sure to demonstrate the importance and relevance of this form of poetry.
Opening the same day, A Midsummer Fairy Fantasy, directed by Melissa Miller, is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream performed entirely with hand puppets.

Puppets made by Melissa Miller will be featured in the company's production of A Midsummer Fairy Fantasy.

Puppets made by Melissa Miller will be featured in the company's production of A Midsummer Fairy Fantasy.

The show will run three times a day Saturdays and Sundays at noon, 2pm and 4pm through Sunday, April 25. Tickets are $5 for children 12 and under, $10 for adults. Miller is “a one-man company,” according to Co-Artistic Director Helen Borgers– she is an actor, singer, technician and playwright.
Miller has written two critically acclaimed plays and has been a member of the company for many years. However, she will be leaving the company in July to pursue a career as a teacher in Texas. A Midsummer Fairy Fantasy is her “swan song,” as she has had her hand in every area of the production from designing and building the puppets to acting in the piece.
The last event to kick off the celebration is a cabaret version of Kiss Me Kate, which will be directed by Helen Borgers and feature music from Cole Porter’s musical inspired by Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Kiss Me Kate follows an acting troupe touring Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, and in true theatrical fashion, the problematic “showmances” that develop in a close-knit group of actors. The cabaret will run Friday, April 23 and Saturday, April 24, but performance time and ticket price have yet to be determined.
The Long Beach Shakespeare Company has been a presence in Bixby Knolls since 2000 and has undergone numerous changes in the last year, with the addition of Denis McCourt as co-artistic director. Borgers has been the artistic director of the company since 1997, when it was known as Bard in the Yard. “No one knows what a bard is,” she said. “We showed up at a place where they were hired and they had a sign up with ‘Barn in the Yard.’ It was not worth the wrongness for the clever.”
With the name change, Borgers also changed the structure of the company from an experimental Shakespeare troupe to a more traditional theater company. Under the name Bard in the Yard, the company did more abridged, updated, parodies and experimental version of Shakespeare’s works.
Going back to their more experimental roots this summer, Brandon “Brando” Cutts will direct the Greek comedy Lysistrata. Cutts grew up in the Long Beach Shakespeare Company, finding it through one of its outreach programs. After working with Borgers and McCourt in productions and the company’s after-school and summer camp programs, he is taking on Lysistrata as his directing debut for the company.
McCourt has been brought into the company to implement more modern adaptations, both to the stage and the running of the company. His goal is to provide more options than just one particular track. McCourt’s methodology for the summer camps and after-school programs is to create a more inclusive environment to groom students in all elements of theater rather than to create a presentation at the end. The kids learn about set design, costumes and sound effects, as well as acting. McCourt believes you have to nurture an audience.
Last year he read a study from Australia about baseball, and the correlations between playing the sport as a kid and becoming a fan as an adult. “The same has to be true of theater,” he said. “Engage in the process… one-on-one contact with theater artists…they can be a part of that… [and it] creates future artists as well as audiences.”
Having recently directed A Christmas Carol and The Exonerated, a modern piece about inmates on death row, for the Long Beach Shakespeare Company, McCourt has been brought on to produce more contemporary works. When asked about Shakespeare, he responds: “I love Shakespeare…performing Shakespeare. Scared to crap of directing Shakespeare.” He says he directs from his gut and wants to focus on the underserved voices– “plays about people we don’t see every day.”
Through the modern and classical productions, the outreach, educational and children’s programs, the goal of the Long Beach Shakespeare Company is to create a community through the children and audiences they introduce to theater. When discussing the impact that being in theater has on a child’s development, McCourt says, “All the things it does to kid’s confidence– discipline and being responsible. Cool stuff.”

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Lauren Stone is a freelance writer and LBCC journalism student.

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