Nothing good ever happens after 2 a.m., as the saying goes. But that’s not true, at least when it comes to William Shakespeare.
For a five-day stretch starting at noon on Saturday, you can drop into the N.C. Museum of History’s Daniels Auditorium in Raleigh for the “Shakespeare Marathon” – any time and all the time, day and night. The event offers staged readings of 38 plays, in three-hour blocks running ’round the clock.
The performers include professional and amateur companies from one end of the state to the other, plus students from Appalachian State, UNC-Chapel Hill, Raleigh’s Broughton High School and many others. And yes, it runs at all hours of the day and night, civilized as well as uncivilized.
So you have Broughton doing “Richard III” at the relatively reasonable hour of 9 p.m. Saturday. But Raleigh Little Theatre drew the 3 a.m. time slot on Sunday, April 24, for “The Lamentable Tragedy of Titus Andronicus.”
Raleigh Little Theatre executive director Charles Phaneuf will be on hand with goodies to give attendees because, he said, “People who show up for anything at 3 a.m. deserve some appreciation, thanks and high-fives.”
But given the overall depravity of “Titus” – which is violent enough to give Quentin Tarantino pause, with 14 deaths in its five acts including executions, assassinations and cold-blooded murder plus cannibalism, dismemberment, rape, disfigurement and other revenge-heavy sins – long after midnight is probably appropriate.
“In a way, 3 a.m. seems like the right time for ‘Titus,’” said Stuart Byham, who is directing the “Titus” reading for Raleigh Little Theatre. “But we’re trying to turn that into a positive. It will be an experience, and theater people like nothing better than telling stories about shows they’ve been in. Besides, it could be worse. Justice (Theatre Project) drew 3 a.m. Monday. After doing their play, some of them will probably have to go right to work.”
The impetus behind the Shakespeare marathon is the 400-year anniversary of The Bard’s death, which is Saturday. Jerome Davis, artistic director of Raleigh’s Burning Coal Theatre Company, decided to honor the day with readings of all 38 plays in the Shakespeare canon in chronological order.
They threw the project open to 38 different companies from across the state and decided who will do what when by random drawing, without regard to favorites. Burning Coal drew one of Shakespeare’s more obscure tragedies, “Coriolanus,” in the less-than-ideal time slot of 6 to 9 a.m. on Wednesday, April 27.
“The drawing was literally us pulling names out of a hat,” Davis said. “There’s been remarkably little grumbling from anyone – almost none at all, in fact. And it’s not a big financial undertaking. The nice thing about theater is you don’t really need money because it’s best when it’s language-driven, as Shakespeare demonstrated in his day.”
Logistics dictate that these are readings rather than fully staged performances, with no props, costumes or staging to speak of. Given the world from which Shakespeare’s plays emerged, however, that’s actually more than appropriate.
“In Shakespeare’s day, the Globe Theatre had no sets or lighting,” Davis said. “They performed in broad daylight wearing then-modern dress. That’s why it’s kind of absurd to do Shakespeare in Elizabethan garb. Yes, that’s what they were originally done in, but only because there was no money for costumes. None of the actors were making exorbitant sums, either. But the canon of dramatic literature came from that environment and probably always will.”
The Shakespeare Marathon is just one of several events happening in conjunction with this quadricentennial of Shakespeare’s death. Carolina Ballet is debuting a newly commissioned three-act ballet of “Macbeth” this month in Raleigh and Durham. After the marathon wraps on April 28, Raleigh’s Sonorous Road Productions is hosting a series of readings of all 154 of Shakespeare’s sonnets. And the Museum of History has the exhibit “First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare” (featuring an original copy of Shakespeare’s 1623 First Folio) on display May 7-30.
Four centuries after his passing, Shakespeare is still arguably the most important writer in the English language.
“Indeed, he is regarded as very important even by nations that have no particular love for the English-speaking world,” said Christopher Armitage, a UNC-Chapel Hill English professor who teaches an annual “Shakespeare in Performance” study program in England. “At this moment, somebody in Russia, Japan or China is probably writing something about Shakespeare. Go into any good research library and you’ll find shelves upon shelves upon shelves of books about Shakespeare, many of which even I don’t expect to read in this or any subsequent lifetime.”
Past its live run, “Shakespeare Marathon” will also be preserved online. The readings will be live-streamed, then archived digitally. That makes the project a slice of North Carolina as well as Shakespearean history.
“We’ll have 38 digital films of all the readings and they’ll exist on the web in perpetuity as a snapshot of North Carolina theater on the 400-year anniversary of Shakespeare’s death,” said Davis. “That will be a very interesting artifact for people to see in the future.”
Saturday, April 23
noon-3 p.m.: “Henry VI, Part I” (Flat Rock Playhouse)
3-6 p.m.: “Henry VI, Part II” (Davidson College theater department)
6-9 p.m.: “Henry VI, Part III” (Carrboro ArtsCenter)
9 p.m.-midnight: “Richard III (Broughton High School, Raleigh)
Sunday, April 24
Midnight-3 a.m.: “Comedy of Errors” (Gilbert Theater, Fayetteville)
3-6 a.m.: “Titus Andronicus” (Raleigh Little Theatre)
6-9 a.m.: “Taming of the Shrew” (Thalian Association Community Theatre, Wilmington)
9 a.m.-noon: “Two Gentlemen of Verona” (Raleigh Charter High School and Seed Art Share, Garner)
Noon-3 p.m.: “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (North Carolina Wesleyan College, Rocky Mount)
3-6 p.m.: “Romeo and Juliet” (Greensboro College)
6-9 p.m.: “Richard II” (In/Visible Theatre, Boone)
9 p.m.-midnight: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (Appalachian State University, Boone)
Monday, April 25
Midnight-3 a.m.: “King John” (Theatre in the Park, Raleigh)
3-6 a.m.: “The Merchant of Venice” (Justice Theatre Project, Raleigh)
6-9 a.m.: “Henry IV, Part I” (Neuse Little Theatre, Smithfield)
9 a.m.-noon: “Henry IV, Part II” (Barton College, Wilson)
Noon-3 p.m.: “Much Ado About Nothing” (Belmont Abbey College)
3-6 p.m.: “Henry V” (Chickspeare, Charlotte)
6-9 p.m.: “Julius Caesar” (Duke Players, Durham)
9 p.m.-midnight: “As You Like It” (Magnolia Arts Center, Greenville)
Tuesday, April 26
Midnight-3 a.m.: “Twelfth Night” (Bare Theatre, Raleigh)
3-6 a.m.: “Halmet” (Dram Tree Shakespeare, Wilmington)
6-9 a.m.: “The Merry Wives of Windsor” (Sweat Tea Shakespeare and Fayetteville State University)
9 a.m.-noon: “Troilus and Cressida” (Honest Pint Theatre Company, Raleigh)
Noon-3 p.m.: “All’s Well That Ends Well” (Ensemble Stage, Blowing Rock)
3-6 p.m.: “Measure for Measure” (Louisburg College)
6-9 p.m.: “Othello” (Catawba College, Salisbury)
9 p.m.-midnight: “King Lear” (PlayMakers Repertory Company, UNC-Chapel Hill)
Wednesday, April 27
Midnight-3 a.m.: “Macbeth” (William Peace University, Raleigh)
3-6 a.m.: “Antony and Cleopatra” (Antic Shakespeare Company, Durham)
6-9 a.m.: “Coriolanus” (Burning Coal Theatre Company, Raleigh)
9 a.m.-noon: “Timon of Athens” (UNC-Pembroke)
Noon-3 p.m.: “Pericles” (Brunswick Little Theatre, Southport)
3-6 p.m.: “Cymbeline” (N.C. Central University, Durham)
6-9 p.m.: “The Winter’s Tale” (Studio 1, Burlington)
9 p.m.-midnight: “The Tempest” (Twin City Stage, Winston-Salem)
Thursday, April 28
Midnight-3 a.m.: “Henry VIII” (Warehouse Performing Arts Center, Cornelius)
3-6 a.m.: “The Two Noble Kinsmen” (Stillwater Theatre Company, Meredith College, Raleigh)
Other Shakespeare events
What: “First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare,” with an original copy of the 1623 First Folio of Shakespeare
When: May 7-30
Where: N.C. Museum of History, 5 E. Edenton St., Raleigh
Details: The museum has various lectures and special events planned around the First Folio exhibit. See them all at ncmuseumofhistory.org.
What: “Fairest Creatures: The Sonnets of William Shakespeare”
When: 7:30 p.m. April 28 and April 29, 2 p.m. May 1
Where: Sonorous Road Productions, 209 Oberlin Road, Raleigh
Details: 919-803-3798 or sonorousroad.com
What: “Macbeth” presented by Carolina Ballet
When/Where: 2 p.m. Sunday, Memorial Auditorium at Duke Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh; 8 p.m. April 30 and 2 p.m. May 1, Durham Performing Arts Center, 123 Vivian St., Durham
Cost: $30-$83 for Raleigh; $32 to $38 for Durham
Details: 919-719-0900 or carolinaballet.com