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September 17, 2015 at 9:35 pm (A Midsummer Night's Dream, Antony and Cleopatra, Live Performances, Shakespeare's Plays, The Taming of the Shrew, The Two Gentlemen of Verona) (, , , , , , , , )

I started this post two whole years ago, but was sidetracked. Here it is with a few updates!

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CSC-logo-300I love the local Shakespeare groups in the DC area. The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company is especially fun and vibrant. During the summer, they perform family-friendly productions at the haunted ruins of a Southern Belle finishing school. In the fall, they used to take folks inside those ruins for movable productions in the dark (they did Dracula like that a couple years ago!). Now that they’ve settled into their beautiful Baltimore home, it looks like they plan to stay there for the fall show (though it’s still bloody: Titus Andronicus!).

The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company performs during the summer at the haunted ruins of the Patapsco Female Institute (Photo by Teresa Castracane)

The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company performs during the summer at the haunted ruins of the Patapsco Female Institute (Photo by Teresa Castracane)

Two summers ago, I took my kids to see The Taming of the Shrew at the haunted ruins. Light rain was barely noticed and the actors were just happy to complete a performance (so many thunder storms in Maryland that year… and the ruins are on top of a hill). The outdoor venue is really fun for families, with blankets and picnicking encouraged and no need for kids to sit perfectly still and at attention. There are a few hundred folding chairs available, as well as space to spread out. The stage area is built on several levels in front of the ruins and the actors use window openings and the sides of the ruins for entrances and exits. There’s a lot of activity. This production of the Shrew was pure fun. The comedy was slapstick and silly, with hilarious situations and clownish antics. Great fun for kids.

Back in 2013, CSC was also still playing in community spots. I saw The Two Gentlemen of Verona in “The Other Barn” which was a surprisingly pleasant and intimate community performance space located in a shopping center in Columbia, Maryland. It’s a hike for me to Columbia, but it was well worth it. CSC is a a community-minded organization and makes a great effort to be accessible to its audience.

The performance I attended was preceded by a talk with director Patrick Kilpatrick who spoke a bit about the setting he chose for this production… it takes place in 1991, a year Kilpatrick described as pivotal to American culture… the year “everything changed.” His inspiration (if that’s what you would call it) was a combination of the William Kennedy Smith rape case and the Menendez brothers’ trial. “Proteus and Valentine are the Menendez brothers. They are William Kennedy Smith. Two kids from wealthy and powerful families who think they can have whatever they want, because for their entire lives that has been a fact.” It was an interesting way to look at the play and in fact worked really well, with the boys in their button down oxford shirts and smoking seegars.

And it was a great deal of fun watching the play at The Other Barn… the actors were within a couple feet of me. The Duke’s eight-year-old son was sitting near me on a bench watching his dad and hanging out with him between scenes… I loved the casual atmosphere. The CSC players also entertained us with some fun music before the show and during intermission. Love these performances.

Street musicians playing for me during a downpour in Staunton.

Street musicians playing for me during a downpour in Staunton.

This past summer I visited my favorite spot, Staunton, Virginia, once again. I stayed in a fantastic airbnb place and really enjoyed the town. I took in two performances at the American Shakespeare Center: A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Antony and Cleopatra. I even won a door prize… a poster signed by the cast! The shows were excellent, as always. They continue through November along with The Winter’s Tale and Henry VI, Part I (called Shakespeare’s Joan of Arc).

Sarah Fallon as Cleopatra and James Keegan as Antony in ANTONY & CLEOPATRA. Photo by Lindsey Walters.

America Shakespeare Center presents Sarah Fallon as Cleopatra and James Keegan as Antony in ANTONY & CLEOPATRA. Photo by Lindsey Walters. See this video for the actress talking about her role.

I saw ASC do The Winter’s Tale a few years ago in McLean, Virginia. ASC is bringing their Dangerous Dreams Tour to the Alden Theatre in McLean again in 2016. They’ll perform Julius Caesar, The Importance of Being Earnest, and The Life of King Henry V January 22-23. They have a package deal for all three shows at the Alden along with a “Brush up your Shakespeare” talk on January 21. Prices: $88 general public/$62 students and seniors/$50 McLean Community Center district residents… what a bargain, especially if you live in McLean! The DC-area Shakespeare Explorers Meetup group is participating in all the Alden events… maybe I’ll make it out to one!

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The Phoenix of Baltimore

September 11, 2015 at 8:33 pm (Live Performances) (, , , , , )

I had this post mostly written a whole year ago and I’m not sure why I didn’t post it then, but here it is. Better late than never.

Home of the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, in the historic Mercantile Trust & Deposit Company building at Redwood and Calvert Streets in Baltimore. Photo by John Lee WYPR

Home of the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, in the historic Mercantile Trust & Deposit Company building at Redwood and Calvert Streets in Baltimore.
Photo by John Lee WYPR

I interrupt my long hiatus from my Shakespeare blogging project to bring you exciting news from Baltimore! My favorite local Shakespeare company, Chesapeake Shakespeare is opening their new “Globe-ish” theater near the Inner Harbor. See this wonderful article in the Baltimore Sun for more info.

fireaftermath-300x253The news is coincidentally slightly tied to my hiatus. I had to take a break from reading and blogging about Shakespeare while I was in graduate school and then I still found no time to blog this past year while I have been working at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

The new Chesapeake Shakespeare theater is located in the renovated Mercantile Trust and Deposit Co., a lovely brick building built in 1885. The building was one of only a handful that survived the devastating 1904 fire that destroyed much of Baltimore. Fire brigades came to help from nearby cities including Washington DC, New York, and Philly, but they found their equipment useless when they got to Baltimore.

The culprit? Each manufacturer of hydrants and fire hoses used different hose connections. The hoses from DC would not fit on the Baltimore fire hydrants. The city burned and burned while firefighters watched, helpless.hydrant

This brings me to the connection to my blogging hiatus. NIST (called National Bureau of Standards in 1904) was asked to study the Baltimore fire and make recommendations to avoid the same issues in the future. Their study found that there were 600 hydrant/hose variations used in the United States at the time.

The result was the establishment of the National Standard Hydrant and accompanying hoses, standards that remain to this day and have been adopted by many cities across the country. Ironically, Baltimore and DC still don’t have compatible hoses and hydrants, but another Great Fire is unlikely… the neighboring firefighters carry adaptors so they can fight each other’s fires.

Long live the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company in its beautiful Baltimore home. I had the pleasure of seeing a (non-Shakespeare) play there soon after it opened. I can’t wait to go back.

Photo from TripAdvisor

Interior of the fantastically beautiful Chesapeake Shakespeare Company theater, Baltimore, Maryland. Photo from TripAdvisor

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Charm in Charm City

June 14, 2012 at 12:31 pm (Asides, Live Performances) (, , , , , , , , )

I am so excited about Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, one of my favorite local performing groups. They are committed to producing “Shakespeare that’s not stuffy,” and they do a wonderful job performing unstuffy Shakespeare all summer at their beautiful outdoor space in Ellicott City, Maryland. Kids get free admission to their shows, which are family-friendly and fun (well… I wouldn’t take the kids to the roaming Titus Andronicus show in the haunted ruins a couple years ago, but A Midsummer Night’s Dream was perfect!)

Anyhow, CSC recently purchased a historic bank building in downtown Baltimore (aka Charm City). As reported by John Barry on the DC Theatre Scene blog, they will convert the 1885 Mercantile Safe Deposit and Trust Building into a 250-seat theater slated to open for performances in fall 2014. According to CSC Artistic Director Ian Gallanar: “The configuration of the building itself has some of the same layout as the Globe Theatre. That’s what we’re riffing off of. We’re trying to recreate a modern Globe. Three levels, an intimacy that I think is very important.”

The location puts CSC right in the midst of the tourist mecca that is Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and they hope to take advantage of that great location, bringing people from around the region in to see shows while they’re visiting Inner Harbor. And, Gallanar says, they are planning an international theater festival for Baltimore. All quite exciting developments for the Baltimore theater scene!

In the meantime, this summer CSC is performing under the stars at the ruins of the antebellum Patapsco Female Institute in Ellicott City. It’s a lovely venue and a very nice place to spend an evening. Romeo and Juliet is in repertory with Pride and Prejudice through the end of July. Fun! And I’m pretty sure my boys will love the swordplay in R&J.

Today is Flag Day in the U.S. and it got me thinking about Baltimore’s part in the flag’s history. Baltimore is currently celebrating (is that the right word?) the bicentennial of the War of 1812 with tall ships (a “Star-Spangled Sailabration”!) and fanfare. Cool stuff. It’s still a couple years before the bicentennial of the National Anthem (Francis Scott Key wrote it in 1814 after watching the British bomb the heck out of Baltimore harbor), but the inspiring Star Spangled Banner that Key saw still flying over Fort McHenry in the morning after the battle is on display at the Smithsonian in DC and you can also check out the nifty interactive version on their website.)

Step outside the Smithsonian, look next door at the White House and remind yourself that the British burned it down in 1814. And then walk a couple doors down to the National Archives and look at the Charters of Freedom (Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Bill of Rights) and think again what Key must have felt — what was saved — that morning in Baltimore when he saw the flag flying and wrote the song.

I was just downtown earlier in the week with my library school class and took a tour of the fantastic public exhibitions at the National Archives and I got to look at those amazing documents again (along with the Magna Carta!). Wow. The perfect activity if you’re visiting Washington DC for the 4th of July!

So, my meanderings into history and archives have a purpose here. I’m taking a class in public outreach and exhibitions for libraries and there are so many awesome examples around here, I just had to share. It’s all about making holdings accessible and interesting to people.

This is also, I’m sure, a motivation for Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s expansion into Baltimore. So, a tip o’ the hat to Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s new home in Baltimore and in the spirit of CSC’s video last holiday season: we can live in a world of light beer, fried chicken wings, Shakespeare AND Jimi Hendrix!

Yes, Jimi Hendrix. Because my brother, and maybe others like him, are more likely to read my Shakespeare blog if I work in a reference to Woodstock. So, here’s my tribute to the Star Spangled Banner on Flag Day… some pretty spectacular fireworks and explosions from the fingers of Jimi Hendrix. I doubt Francis Scott Key foresaw this!

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