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University of Minnesota front and center for Shakespeare's 450th birthday

April 18, 2014

Minneapolis (4/18/2014) - We still turn his phrases on a daily basis. Children still learn his stories during their basic schooling. Actors and actresses still swoon at the opportunity to play his roles.

Four-hundred-and-fifty years after his birth, William Shakespeare remains a cultural giant. While the title of bard in centuries past represented all poets, today Shakespeare is recognizable simply as, “The Bard.” His works have inspired, brought tears and laughter, and been appreciated by untold millions, updated and adapted through the course of six centuries.

The University of Minnesota will recognize the birthday of the world’s most famous playwright with a series of events starting on April 23. Faculty, students and staff from across the university will add their talents and knowledge to the celebrations, helping turn campus into a Shakespearean stage.

“I think he understood humanity better than any writer before or since,” said Barbra Berlovitz, director of the production of “Hamlet” now performing through April 27 at the University Theatre, Rarig Center. “Shakespeare represents human nature in all its beauty and ugliness.”

A free, outdoor celebration from 4-6 p.m. on April 23 highlights the day’s festivities and will include live music, food and special guests. Theatre arts and English students will join in performing their favorite scenes, readings, sword fights, sonnets, and songs outside Murphy Hall on the U of M East Bank campus. An open mic will also provide audience members a chance to share high school tales about Shakespeare in the classroom, or those wild backstage experiences in presenting one of his plays. All are invited to stop by for the live entertainment, which will include free tickets, door prizes, snacks, and, of course, birthday cake. This event is sponsored by the University’s Institute for Advanced Study, and departments of English and Theatre Arts & Dance.

Language still everywhere

While it may come as a surprise, Shakespeare is alive and well in our daily language. If you’ve “slept not one wink” or that misplaced item has “vanished into thin air” you are quoting Shakespeare. The first knock-knock joke (“Macbeth”), as well as phrases like “in a pickle” (“The Tempest”) and “love is blind” (“Merchant of Venice”), “in my salad days” (“Antony and Cleopatra”) are among hundreds that came straight from his pen.

Professor and Shakespeare scholar Katherine Scheil said Shakespeare can often be intimidating, "But I think if students get the basic plot in their minds, then they can attach Shakespeare's language to the story. That's really the way to do it: Slow down and think about what Shakespeare is saying.  Students then often discover what has become almost a cliché: that Shakespeare speaks to what it means to be human.”

Steve Cardamone - who teaches acting in the University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater Actor Training Program - agrees. “On the page, it is difficult,” he said. “We think, 'Why doesn’t he just say it?' But he didn’t have all the bells and whistles, the technology that we have today. He had to put everything into the dialogue.”

“This birthday party, in collaboration with the English department, lifts up experiencing Shakespeare as entertainment and fun, but it also raises awareness of him as our contemporary, ” said Carrie Van Hallgren, producing director in the Department of Theatre Arts & Dance.

For “Hamlet” tickets and information contact: U of M Arts/Events Ticket Office at theatre.umn.edu or call (612) 624-2345. Audience parking is available the 21st Ave. parking ramp, located across from the Rarig Center, on the University of Minnesota West Bank Campus.

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