Arts & Culture

Arts groups band together for “Wherefore: Shakespeare in Raleigh” festival

Emily Rose White as Juliet and Joey Heyworth as Romeo star in the Burning Coal Theatre Company production of William Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet,” directed by Emily Ranii.
Emily Rose White as Juliet and Joey Heyworth as Romeo star in the Burning Coal Theatre Company production of William Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet,” directed by Emily Ranii. RIGHT IMAGE PHOTOGRAPHY

In Shakespeare’s tale of star-crossed lovers, Juliet asks the night, “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?”

Juliet’s question is often misunderstood to mean she is searching for Romeo rather than cursing the fact that her love is from an enemy family.

Playing off that common misinterpretation, organizers of the six-months-long, “Wherefore: Shakespeare in Raleigh” festival cheerfully respond: Romeo is here, along with Macbeth and Puck, Beatrice and Benedick, and a host of other characters from some of the Bard’s most well-known tragedies and comedies.

From now through June, theatergoers will be able to catch a performance of work by Shakespeare or inspired by him. The festival brings together arts organizations from across the region, including Raleigh Little Theatre, the N.C. Symphony, Bare Theatre and Theatre in the Park.

Charles Phaneuf, executive director of Raleigh Little Theatre, said plans for the first-time festival got underway last year as he and others realized how many companies had plans for a Shakespeare production.

From there, they banded together with support from the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau to form the festival.

The groups are eager to see how the collaboration works this year, with an eye toward whether it could become a recurring event.

“This really could grow into something that would encourage people to come to Raleigh,” Phaneuf said.

Jonathan Freeze, director of marketing for the visitors bureau, said it’s unusual but welcome to have a festival develop organically.

“What is so exciting to me is that each organization has looked outside its own borders to say, ‘How can we make this bigger than one production?’ ” he said.

The visitors bureau provided online marketing help to the groups and is encouraging hotels to offer packages geared toward visitors who may be interested in viewing multiple performances during a single weekend.

Renee Wimberley, creative director of Seed Art Share, said the company’s production features several layers of collaboration.

Part of Seed’s mission is to be a company that allows actors and theatergoers to share the experience of the stage with their family. With that goal in mind, the production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” includes a band of fairies who are the children of performers and three directors to split the load.

The company doesn’t have a physical space, so the show will take place in Raleigh Little Theatre’s outdoor garden. And now the production is part of the festival.

Wimberley said it’s a pleasure to see so much collaboration among arts groups, inspired by plays that continue to be relevant hundreds of years after they were first performed.

“What a great thing for it to be a writer whose stories have endured the test of time,” she said.

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