I’m a perpetual night owl.
I’m also English degreed, and the work of William Shakespeare fascinates me.
So the “Shakespeare Marathon: 38 Plays in 5 Days,” produced by Burning Coal Theatre at the N.C. Museum of History, is right up my alley.
The marathon featured round-the-clock – yes, 24 hours a day – stage readings of all of Shakespeare’s plays, from his first to his last, by professional and amateur theater groups from across North Carolina.
It’s the kind of thing that’s so unique it could be worthy of “The Guinness Book of World Records,” said Michelle Carr, the museum’s grant writer who helped coordinate the marathon event.
“I call it an adventure,” said Carr, noting every show has had an audience ranging from five to 100 people, while many others have watched via live stream.
“People around the globe are watching,” she said. “We’re very excited about what we’ve accomplished.”
It was all in honor of the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death.
The marathon also ushered in the museum’s upcoming May 7-30 exhibit, “First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare.”
“The First Folio” is a book of 36 Shakespearean plays that unveiled 18 plays never printed before 1623, seven years after the Bard’s death in 1616. Among them: “Macbeth,” “Julius Caesar,” “Twelfth Night,” “The Tempest” and “As You Like It.” The book was compiled by friends and theater mates of Shakespeare, who shunned writing down his work for fear it would be stolen.
Raleigh is North Carolina’s only “First Folio” host on a national tour of the Folger Shakespeare Library, which holds 82 of the remaining copies of the book. Sixteen will tour.
The museum’s Shakespeare marathon started at noon April 23 with “Henry VI, Part I,” followed by plays every three hours through April 28.
Readings were delivered with minimal costumes and staging by students from Broughton and Raleigh Charter high schools and also colleges and universities, including Davidson, Appalachian State, Catawba, N.C. Central, UNC-Pembroke and Fayetteville State. Theater groups from across the state also performed readings.
“It was fascinating, the idea of getting up to go see a play at 3 a.m. – quirky and exciting,” said Madelyn Archibald, who saw “The Merchant of Venice” with a friend. “That it was Shakespeare made it even more exciting because it’s been on my bucket list to take in more classic plays.
“I also realize I don’t have to go to Broadway to see plays by talented people who love the arts as much as I do.”
Live stream archives make it a celebration of North Carolina’s art community, 400 years after Shakespeare, said Jerome Davis, Burning Coal’s artistic director.
“It’s like a little time capsule,” Davis said. “People will be able to look at it in the future, and see who Burning Coal was and see who North Carolina was, from an artistic standpoint.”
I chose the midnight reading of “Macbeth,” a top-five in my favorites list.
A dozen or so other folks were there, too, listening to students from William Peace University give us “Macbeth,” with all its drama about the physical and psychological effects of seeking political power for selfish reasons.
And that’s what I adore about Shakespeare: Not only do we still use thousands of words, phrases and idioms born in his writing – be-all and the end-all and love is blind – we also delve with him into timeless lessons on life, love, relationships and the human mind.