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Shakespeare in the City

When one thinks of William Shakespeare, great cities such as London come to mind. That's why much ado is being made about the 29th annual meeting of the Shakespeare Association of America, which will be held April 12 through 14 in Miami. Each year a different city is chosen as the site of this prestigious conference. From Montreal to Cleveland, Shakespearean scholars and aficionados alike gather to emulate and debate the work of the world's greatest dramatist, but Shakespeare in South Florida? Yes indeed, insists Peggy Endel, Florida International University professor of English. As she points out, Shakespeare in South Florida is nothing new: "When I came to South Florida 20 years ago, the South Florida Theatre Company was doing four Shakespearean productions a year. We're just retrieving something that we haven't seen much of in the past few years, but it's something that has existed in Miami for a long time and somehow we have allowed it to lapse. It's wonderful to reach back to that."

Luckily this joint project among FIU, the University of Miami, and the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs promises to be as theatrical as it will be pedagogical. Three innovative Shakespeare productions are scheduled in conjunction with the conference. Local playwright and chair of FIU's Department of Theatre and Dance Leroy Clark makes the Florida debut of his original work, Shakespeare's Journey, April 5 through 15. Clark, after teaching and producing hundreds of Shakespeare's plays, became intrigued by the man himself. Based on true biographical information, the play explores the conflicts in Shakespeare's loves of the theater, his wife, and his mistress. While plays have been written about the myths and legends surrounding Shakespeare, none has been written about details of his life -- save Tom Stoppard's screenplay for Shakespeare in Love.

Ironically enough, Clark's play premiered the same week as that movie, but as Clark is quick to point out, his play is historically accurate, whereas the movie is entirely fiction. Clark hopes to engage new audiences with this contemporary portrait of the man and the playwright: "Many people hear the word Shakespeare and run the other way. While Shakespeare's Journey suggests the historical time period, the language is very accessible. It's also a lot of fun, with romantic scenes, witty dialogue, and lots of action."

On an entirely different note, University of Miami's Ring Theatre will present an original adaptation of the Bard's Much Ado About Nothing April 13 through 21. UM theater professor and professional ballroom dancer Matthew T. Gitkin has created a swing version of Much Ado, which takes place in a USO canteen in Europe during World War II. Adhering to Shakespeare's language and script, the new play surrounds the stormy relationship between Benedick, who is now a U.S. Army major, and Beatrice, a USO entertainer. Fully equipped with period costumes, '40s music, and original choreography, this 20th-century Much Ado underscores the universality of Shakespeare's work with an added twist.

Por supuesto, it wouldn't be Shakespeare in Miami without a little Romeo en español. The Spanish-language El Grupo Teatral el Duende (the Goblin Theater Group) presents Of Love and Death in Shakespeare and excerpts from Romeo and Juliet, Othello, and Julius Caesar in Spanish April 12 and 13 at FIU. Reading a translation of Romeo and Juliet, artistic director Raúl García-Huerta was inspired to make Shakespeare's work accessible to Spanish-speaking residents of South Florida: "I have always loved Romeo and Juliet, and I realized there are a lot of Latin Americans in Miami who maybe haven't had a chance to experience Shakespeare because they don't understand English well enough to enjoy a work by Shakespeare in English. This is an opportunity for Latin American theatergoers in Miami to enjoy Shakespeare in their native language."

While these three productions may not drag spring breakers from their barstools, they are an incredible opportunity for South Florida theatergoers and Shakespeare enthusiasts alike to experience this rich tradition through myriad new and innovative perspectives.

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Mia Leonin

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