The Bard's bash goes global

As the anniversary of Shakespeare's birth arrives, chances are there's a festival devoted to the playwright near you.

Oregon Shakespere Festival
‘Romeo and Juliet’ at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

It's that time of year when all the world seems to be a stage, to misquote Shakespeare.

From Coral Gables, Fla., to Fairbanks, Alaska, from England to Iraq, Shakespeare players are there to amaze and amuse you.

It's the anniversary of the Bard of Avon's birth (more or less; nobody knows for sure), and Shakespeare theater groups are gearing up for the busy vacation season.

By one count, there are some 70 Shakespeare festivals in the United States alone, many of them performing outdoors.

Can't get to a Shakespeare theater or festival? Maybe one will come to you.

The San Francisco Shakespeare Festival has a touring group playing mainly in schools and libraries, performing the essence of, say, "Macbeth" in a truncated 55-minute performance.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) here in Ashland sends out two-person teams of actors to schools – many of them tiny venues across the remote American West. (Stage fighting is a big hit with kids. A genuine sword is better than a lightsaber any day.)

The Oregon festival, one of the oldest and largest professional repertory theater companies in the US, performs 11 plays (four of them Shakespeare's) over an eight-month season in three theaters – one of them the oldest existing full-scale Elizabethan stage in the Western Hemisphere.

OSF also is commissioning 37 new plays (the number in Shakespeare's full canon) over a nine-year period – each focusing on a period of change, inspiration, or conflict in US history – as part of its "American Revolutions: The United States History Cycle."

The Royal Shakespeare Company is producing the "World Shakespeare Festival," some 70 productions performed around the bard's homeland, beginning this month and running through November. As part of this festival, London's Globe Theatre will present every one of Shakespeare's 37 plays (there's that number again), each in a different language.

Looking for nontraditional Shakespeare? OSF this year sets "Troilus and Cressida" and the Trojan War within today's conflict in Iraq. Coincidentally, the organization is hosting the visit by a troupe of 10 young Iraqi theater students from the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani – the first ever to perform Shakespeare publicly in Iraq.

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