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Shakespeare celebrated at world festival

The World Shakespeare Festival will show all of the Bard's 37 plays, each in a different language, and each by a different international company, at the Globe Theatre in London. NBC News' Peter Jeary reports.

The World Shakespeare Festival, the biggest celebration ever of the Bard and his work, begins in the United Kingdom on April 23, his birthday.

Produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), the renowned theater company, based in Stratford-upon-Avon in England, the festival is an unprecedented collaboration among over 50 arts organizations from around the world. Offering almost 70 Shakespeare productions, the festival will run through November. 

What makes the festival extraordinary is the diversity of its productions: There will be performances of Shakespeare plays and other works inspired by Shakespeare's plays, done in dozens of different languages by professional, semi-professional and amateur actors from dozens of different countries.


Andrew Shuttleworth, marketing communications manager for Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York, plans to attend the festival in the summer. Shuttleworth acted as a child and young adult growing up in Maine, in “Macbeth,” “King Lear,” and “The Taming of the Shrew.”

“The aspect of the World Shakespeare Festival that I’m most excited about is that it’s not just high-level productions, it’s also a celebration of community, amateur, and youth Shakespeare,” Shuttleworth told msnbc.com.

“There’s something extremely cool about a festival that embraces immaculately produced theater right alongside rough-hewn, smaller-budget shows. Small shows can be just as inventive, just as much fun as the big ones.”

The festival is part of the London 2012 Festival, which is itself the culmination of the Cultural Olympiad, an arts event held as part of Olympics celebrations. The 2012 Summer Olympic games will take place in London from July 27 to August 12.

The festival will include the following productions:

  • Thirty-seven of Shakespeare’s plays performed in as many different languages at Shakespeare’s Globe, a 20th century reconstruction, on the South Bank of the Thames in London, of a theater built by Shakespeare in the late 16th century.  These plays will range from a production of “Cymbeline” by a theater company from the world's youngest country, South Sudan, and the three “Henry VI” plays by the national theaters of Serbia, Albania and Macedonia, to a performance of “Love’s Labor’s Lost” performed in British Sign Language by Deafinitely Theater, and a production of “Richard III” by the National Theater of China.
  • A multimedia production of “Troilus and Cressida” by the RSC and The Wooster Group of New York from Aug. 3 to Aug. 18 in Stratford-upon-Avon.
  • A production of “Desdemona,” based on a character from “Othello,” by American novelist Toni Morrison, Malian singer and songwriter Rokia Traoré, and American director Peter Sellars, at the Barbican in London on July 19 and 20.
  • A full-scale production of “West Side Story,” featuring professionals, semi-professionals and amateurs, in Gateshead from July 4 to July 7.
  • “In a Pickle,” a play described as a “voyage of discovery through the landscapes of Shakespeare’s imagination,” for children age two to four, in Stratford-upon-Avon, London and Newcastle Upon Tyne in May and June.
  • A special exhibit, called “Shakespeare: Staging the World,” on display at the British Museum in London from July 19 to Nov. 25.  Featuring almost 200 objects ranging from paintings to everyday items like a sweetmeat fork, it will explore the emerging role of London as a world city four hundred years ago, interpreted through the perspective of Shakespeare’s plays.
  • A social networking platform, myShakespeare, designed to generate a global conversation on Shakespeare, with discussions about his influence on everything from culture to politics to economics. The festival has invited artists from around the world to create new work for the site.

Michael Boyd, artistic director of the RSC, believes that these and the festival's many other events have the power to unite individuals across cultures: “People of all races, creeds and continents have chosen to gather around [Shakespeare's] work to share stories of what it is like to be human, to fall in love or fall from grace, to be subject to the abuse of power, or to live with the dreams of angels in the shadow of our own mortality.”

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