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West Hartford To Hold Festival Commemorating 400th Anniversary of Shakespeare's Death

To be or not to be at the West Hartford Shakespeare festival, that is the question

WEST HARTFORD — Traveling minstrels, an Elizabethan chorale and local actors will take over Blue Back Square on the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's death.

Events across the globe will commemorate the famous playwright's death on April 23, including West Hartford's free Shakespeare400 Festival from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

"We are coming together in the celebration of the work and sharing the work communally for audiences to hear it and absorb it because we will all be dead on the 500th anniversary," Hall High School theater director Sean Harris said. "There is a reason why we study these plays 400 years [later]."

Organizer Nina Elgo said she came up with the idea for the festival after reading an article about the 400th anniversary celebrations around the world in The New York Times. She said she couldn't find anything going on in Greater Hartford, so she decided to create her own festival with the help of Harris and co-organizer Linda Wright.

"I was pretty much in awe of the fact that Shakespeare has endured and thrived for 400 years, and that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to celebrate and explore the reasons for that legacy," she said.

The festival will feature performers from Hall and Conard high schools, who are also performing "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "Romeo and Juliet" this month, respectively, Elgo said. Other performers include Sound and Fury: Trinity College's Shakespeare Players, Capital Classics Theatre Company's Greater Hartford Shakespeare Festival, the Theatre Division of the Hartt School, the American School for the Deaf and Kingswood Oxford.

Each group will perform different acts, scenes or monologues from Shakespeare's plays in 20-minute segments, Harris said. The performances will be on the open stage near Barnes & Noble, giving it a theater-in-the-round feel, he said.

"No matter what people's perceptions are of the work they've already seen or heard or studied of Shakespeare's, this will be a different approach," Harris said. "Sometimes sitting down and reading a five-act 'Hamlet' for three weeks in English class is really taxing."

The event will also involve local businesses, said Hall junior Natalie Wright. Many shops in Blue Back Square will hold promotions or give out Shakespeare-themed samples, including The Green Teahouse, which will be promoting its custom-made "Twelfth Night" tea, she said.

For more information about the festival or participation, visit www.WeHaShakes400.com or email WeHaShakes400@gmail.com.

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