NEW YORK — THE performers in Joseph Papp's Shakespeare Marathon are as enthusiastic as their producer about bringing Shakespeare alive for modern audiences. What's the secret to meeting this challenge? ``I think it just goes back to making simple, clear sense of the language,'' says Stephen Collins, who played Orsino in the marathon's recent ``Twelfth Night'' production.
``Modern audiences come to Shakespeare with a lot of fears,'' he continues, ``and the biggest fear is that they won't know what's going on.
``[Shakespeare] is really a brilliant playwright, and he's very funny. There's a lot of low comedy. ... And I think the secret is: ... Make sure you understand every word, the simplest bottom-line meaning - what is this character actually trying to say to that character?
``The language may be very flowery and difficult, but what, in fact, he's saying may be: `I'm hungry!'''
John Amos, who played Sir Toby Belch in the production, says good directing is essential to a show's impact. In directing ``Twelfth Night,'' he adds, Harold Guskin ``insisted that we have fun. ... He took, not a cavalier attitude toward Shakespeare, but said to treat it as you would any other play.''
Gregory Hines, who played Feste, says the Delacorte Theater's special ambience helps spectators - and actors - enjoy Shakespeare plays.
``There's a very different feeling to working for people in this venue,'' Mr. Hines says, ``than in a Broadway venue, where people pay $50 a ticket....
``The first time I come onstage [at the Delacorte], it's 8 at night,'' he explains. ``But it's still light, and I can see the whole audience ... as opposed to coming on a Broadway stage, where it's like a big black hole....
``And most of the people [at the Delacorte] are smiling. It seems like people are very happy to be there. ... There's a lot of energy coming toward the stage that makes me feel people are happy, and want to have a great time!''