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Thursday, March 30, 2017

Shakespeare Factory Breathes New Life into Old Master

Written by  Frankie Kujawa
John David Gray John David Gray

Shakespeare, in describing the death of the compelling Cleopatra, once wrote “Now boast thee, death, in thy possession lies a lass unparallel’d.” Audiences can now relish in the passionate tragedy that is Antony & Cleopatra as Baltimore Shakespeare Factory’s production of the Shakespeare classic takes the stage this month. Running from March 31st to April 23rd, Antony & Cleopatra is the tragic love story of two of history’s most ardent lovers.

Antony & Cleopatra is one of Shakespeare’s most interesting plays,” explains Assistant Director Jonas Grey. “It’s definitely a love story and a lot of people are familiar with that. It takes place in history when the world, as we knew it, was in utter chaos,” Grey laughs, adding, “So it’s timely.”

Grey, who has served as educational director for the Baltimore Shakespeare Factory (BSF) since last summer, is admittedly biased to this production. “It’s one of my favorite Shakespeare plays. This production is being performed with original pronunciation. So, audiences will get to experience this performance as close as we can get it to the way audiences heard it performed 400 years ago.” Grey added, “In fact, as far as any of us know, this will be the first time that modern audiences will have an opportunity to hear this play in this style of pronunciation. No one else has done it.” Grey continued to explain that much of the nuance and rhyming from Shakespeare’s original classics have been lost over the years due to the translation of the works. “There are moments when the puns get missed in Modern English.”

As educational director for the BSF, Grey has also worked to develop an educational program to help bring Shakespeare into many of the classrooms around the Baltimore community. “We’ve come together to develop a mission statement for a program that would allow us to reach as many students as possible. Our goal is to develop residencies and after-school programs for students ranging in grades three through 12, though I’m perfectly happy to see kindergarten through 12 at some point, too.” Grey added that experiences such as this would be wonderful for kids of all ages. “We have a belief that, through performance-based activities, you can provide students with a positively transformative experience through the use of Shakespeare.”

Grey recounted a recent student who didn’t want to play Juliet because she felt she wasn’t the right body type, and he encouraged the girl to find an example in the material to support a specific “ideal view” of Juliet. The girl, upon failing to find it, proceeded with her performance in the role. “Afterwards,” Grey continued, “her mother told me that her daughter’s entire demeanor had changed. She had blossomed and her whole sense of self was altered for the better. I think that’s the power of Shakespeare.”

Along with building self-esteem and confidence through education of Shakespeare, Grey hopes to present Shakespeare in a way that is collective for all audiences. “The themes in Shakespeare are so universal and, in our opinion, no one has ever written them better. You have revenge, romance, racism, misogyny, and xenophobia. And then, in saying all these things, I’m also talking about the front page of the newspaper. Themes that were absolutely relevant in Shakespeare’s time are still relevant for society today.”

For more info and tickets for Antony & Cleopatra, visit Baltimoreshakespearefactory.org.

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