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This article by Joan Crespi was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on October 7, 1998. All rights reserved.

Shakespeare: In the Square, Around the Town

Free Shakespeare? In Princeton? You better believe it!

Princeton Repertory Company's Shakespeare in the Square (Palmer Square, that is) is back for the fourth consecutive year, with free outdoor performances of "Much Ado About Nothing" on Saturday and Sunday, October 10 and 11, at 2 p.m.

And that isn't all. This year, with increased ambition and expanded funding, Shakespeare in the Square has grown into a 10-day festival that includes five workshops, a puppet show, a benefit dinner with performance, and authentic Elizabethan foods, in the days preceding and including the performance weekend.

And this year Shakespeare in the Square has reached beyond Palmer Square. Launched at Barnes & Noble in MarketFair on Friday, October 2, this year Princeton Rep is staging its Shakespeare Downtown program with three days of free workshops for children and adults at Princeton University through Wednesday, October 7. On Thursday, October 8, at 8 p.m., it gives a Shakespeare performance and benefit dinner at Triumph Brewing Company, Nassau Street ($50 all inclusive; no reservations necessary).

But the play's still the thing, the festival highlight. "Much Ado About Nothing," a delightful romantic comedy, is performed on Saturday and Sunday, October 10 and 11, at 2 p.m., light rain or shine. "We moved it up a week because last year it was so cold," said Ann Reiss, Princeton Rep's producing director. (This writer shivered in a sweater last year, while actors in off-the-shoulder dresses frolicked blithely through "As You Like It.") "Much Ado," like two previous productions, will be performed directly on the Palmer Square green without a stage, but there will be sets. Also on the green, free, on both days, a Shakespeare workshop (no acting experience necessary) begins at 11 a.m., with a puppet show at noon. "Much Ado About Nothing" is directed by Jennifer Spahr, co-founder of the group, Shakespeare in the Park(ing) Lot. Spahr directed last year's Shakespeare in the Square production of "As You Like It."

Shakespeare's witty lovers, Benedick and Beatrice, are played by John Moore, a 1989 Princeton graduate and member of the Triangle Club, and Amy Speace. Ben Olsen plays Claudio, Maitreya Friedman, the unsullied Hero. Unlike the recent movie, where Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson traded verbal barbs bedecked in Italian dress of Shakespeare's time, Spahr's production is set in a fictional Messina, U.S.A., in 1945, just after World War II. Soldiers returning from war become entangled in a matchmaking prank and a malicious scheme. The logic, says Reiss, is "from war's aggression to love's aggression." There's Yankee swing music and dancing from the 1940s. But the Bard's language is intact. "We changed one `Messina' reference to `Princeton,'" says Victoria Liberatori, Princeton Rep's founding artistic director. "But we do not change Shakespeare's language."

Shakespeare's language is the thing. And Reiss believes Shakespeare in the Square is the only festival in the state that is dedicated to using the First Folio text. Shakespeare's own actors put out the First Folio in 1623, seven years after the playwright's death. But over the centuries, editors have "fixed" Shakespeare's language, spellings, and punctuation.

"The First Folio is the closest thing we have to the clues Shakespeare gave his actors on how to play the play," says April Feld Sandor, who will teach the weekend workshops on the green. Like Anne Occhiogrosso, who leads the Shakespeare Down-Town workshops and is a nationally renowned First Folio teacher, Sandor is an expert in First Folio text. Actor and teacher, she has worked with London's Original Shakespeare Company. She explains that in the history plays, `war' might be spelled "war," "warr," or "warre," but those that were given the double "r" sound were from the north of England. Thus the script was intended to give the actor the clue to the accent of his character.

"Shakespeare would do the same with French. It was not that Shakespeare didn't know how to spell the French; it was a way of giving the actor a funny French accent. Similarly, `Lady' might be capitalized, or `Ring,'" says Sandor. "These were clues to the actor that this was not just any lady or any ring, but that something needs to be pointed up." Shakespeare's actors, with only a short time to rehearse or long lapses between plays, needed these acting clues.

Most theater groups don't use the First Folio: it's expensive and it's a heavy volume all bound together, but it's becoming more popular, says Sandor, and actors are asking for it. It may be copied from libraries or bought on Internet book sites. While the font may be changed in publication, for easier reading, First Folio spelling, capitalization, and punctuation will remain.

Sandor believes Shakespeare's plays have lasted because he understood people. "Shakespeare was the Elizabethan soap opera: jealousy, young lovers are not allowed to get together. `Dallas' was a bunch of Iagos going at each other." And, like Shakespearean actors, soap opera actors don't have much time to rehearse; they need acting clues in the script.

Before the academics took over Shakespeare, it was "everyday people," such as merchants and farmers who came to see his plays, says Reiss. Shakespeare wrote for the masses. "And that's what we want to happen: we want everyday people to enjoy Shakespeare."

On the Green during the performance weekend, Triumph Brewing Company will sell authentic foods from Shakespeare's day -- roasted grilled chicken, beef and barley stew, pasternakes (carrots and parsnips, mashed and served with butter, cinnamon, and nutmeg), gingerbread, and oranges. Princeton Rep and Triumph will also introduce the new brew named ShakesBeer, a sour mash raspberry wheat beer. (Children will have free birch beer.) And Princeton Rep will sell its specially created Thomas Sweet Shakespeare in the Square molded chocolate wrapped in thin green foil: First Foilio. ShakesBeer? First Foilio? Yes, they're irreverent. And Shakespeare loved puns.

Shakespeare in the Square plans to continue its Shakespeare Downtown program year-round, beginning in 1999. Several schools and organizations will participate, including the Boys & Girls Club of Trenton. And, with a growing list of sponsors, Princeton Rep hopes to present a two or three-play Shakespeare season. The goal, says Reiss, is to become a nationally recognized festival.

And Princeton Rep hopes to keep the festival -- to use a First Folio expression -- Free.

-- Joan Crespi

Shakespeare in the Square Benefit, Triumph Brewing, Nassau Street, 609-921-3682. $50. Thursday, October 8, 8 p.m.

Shakespeare in the Square, Princeton Rep, Palmer Square, 609-921-3682. The festivities begin at 11 a.m. when April Feld Sandor leads a free workshop on the green for kids and adults, "Where There's Some Will There's Some Play." A puppet show, "Shakespeare's Little Globe Theater," follows at noon. At 2 p.m., the main attraction is a full performance of "Much Ado About Nothing." Free. Saturday and Sunday, October 10 and 11.

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