Shakespeare Is Alive In The Capitol City, 24 Hours A Day

The Riverside Shakespeare is commonly used during Bard-A-Thons. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)
The Riverside Shakespeare is commonly used during Bard-A-Thons. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

If he were alive today, William Shakespeare would be 450 years old in April. In honor of the event, the capitol city is celebrating with its first Bard-A-Thon, 24 hours of Shakespeare readings for eight consecutive days. The non-stop Shakespeare kicked off on Saturday.

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Cahal Burnham is missing school at Montessori Borealis to read the part of Luciana in Act 2 of “The Comedy of Errors.”

“Dromio, thou snail, though slug, thou sot!” he exclaims.

Cahal and four other people are reading the play at the downtown library, while across town at the Alaska State Library, three people are participating by video conference.

City librarian Amelia Jenkins is in charge of organizing each reader’s part.

“Would you like to be Dromio of Ephesus?” she asks Cahal.

“Uh, yeah sure,” he replies.

“Balthasar?” Jenkins calls out, hoping to solicit a volunteer.

When no one replies, event organizer Beth Weigel poses the question over video conference and state librarian Daniel Cornwall volunteers to be Balthasar.

In Act 3 of “The Comedy of Errors,” one of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies, 10-year-old Cahal reads the part of Dromio of Ephesus, a servant. Dromio’s master and well-respected merchant, Antipholus of Ephesus, is played by 63-year-old Bruce Rogers of Fairbanks.

Antipholus: “Thou drunkard, thou, what didst thou mean by this?”

Dromio: “Say what you will, sir, but I know what I know.
That you beat me at the mart I have your hand to show;
If the skin were parchment and the blows you gave were ink,
Your own handwriting would tell you what I think.

Antipholus: “I think thou art an ass.”

Cahal is with his mother, but it was his idea to participate in the Bard-A-Thon. His interest in Shakespeare stems from reading the children’s book series, “Alvin Ho.”

Cahal laughs. “He was throwing Shakespearian insults out and this was one of them: ‘Be gone ye beshibbering onion-eyed flap dragon.’ It’s funny,” he says.

Bruce Rogers is Artistic Director of the Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre, which is getting ready to perform its 15th Bard-A-Thon in April. He’s been facilitating middle-of-the-night sessions at Juneau’s Perseverance Theatre, reading parts 1, 2, and 3 of the historical “Henry VI.”

“Nothing else to do when you’re up that late,” Rogers says. “Have another cup of coffee and read a little Shakespeare.”

Juneau organizer Beth Weigel says the Bard-A-Thon is a way for Shakespeare amateurs to begin understanding the literature.

“If you’re at home trying to read it silently, sometimes it doesn’t make sense. It makes more sense when you’ve got different voices reading and you hear the words and you can get a little bit of the jokes that come in and out,” Weigel says.

Thirty-nine plays will be read during the Bard-A-Thon, which is getting statewide attention. Prefer Shakespeare sonnets? Join in reading 100 of  the Bard’s poems at 8 a.m. Friday morningat the Douglas Library.

“Hamlet” marks the finale of Juneau’s Bard-A-Thon. Nome public library plans to participate through video conference.

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Lisa Phu is a reporter at KTOO in Juneau.

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