Happy 450th, Mr. Shakespeare

By Stephan Salisbury, Inquirer Staff Writer
POSTED: January 10, 2014

Yes, all the world’s a stage, as Shakespeare noted in As You Like It, so it should be no surprise that all the men and women gathered Wednesday at the Free Library on Logan Circle were merely players.

There was Will himself (also known as Brian McCann), acting no improbable fiction, but rather introducing an ambitious, year-long schedule of programs and events planned in honor of the bard’s 450th birthday.

“The Year of the Bard: Shakespeare at 450” has been put together by the library, the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, and other cultural organizations around the region.

Following Will’s rousing intro, Juliet (played by Lesley Berkowitz) and Romeo (Akeem Davis) scattered some balcony lines – “What’s in a name? that which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet” – around library visitors to mark the occasion in the entrance hall of the Central Library.

But beneath the bronze and benevolent gaze of Dr. William Pepper, seated, as always, in his statuesque pose on the library’s stairway landing, the unquestionable scene-stealers were three young actors from the West Philadelphia High School Drama Club, performing snippets of their favorite Shakespeare characters.

Bria Johnson, a 17-year-old senior, gave visitors her take on Phebe, from As You Like It, appealing because the character is “sassy.”

Shadyrra Stubbs, 18, also a senior, offered Juliet, whose world of Montagues and Capulets is similar to the divergent worlds of West Philadelphia and the suburbs familiar to Stubbs.

Senior Kiera Riddick, 18, offered a rendering of Portia from Merchant of Venice, who is “brutally honest.”

West Philadelphia’s Drama Club, which presented Romeo and Juliet last year, is preparing to stage Macbeth – remarkable evidence of tenacity in the face of unrelenting budget cuts by the Philadelphia School District. The school fought to save the job of drama teacher Jessica Waber, now in her second year, and the students and community held fund-raisers to keep Shakespeare and art in their lives.

After these three young actors finished their roles, the bard himself came up and quietly said, “Really well done.”

The Library will launch “Year of the Bard” with an exhibition in its rare-book department, featuring its rare, complete First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays, published in 1623. Second, Third, and Fourth folios and other items will also be part of the exhibition, dubbed “Shakespeare For All Time,” opening Jan. 27.

Other events in the year-long celebration:

Hands-On Tour: Shaping Shakespeare, Jan. 12, Feb. 7, and March 2, 3 p.m., the Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation, 2008-2010 Delancey Place. Visit rosenbach.org for details and registration information.

Shakespeare’s Sonnets: Traditions of Love and Desire Jan. 15, 6 p.m., Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, 2111 Sansom St. Tickets: $20.

The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, Feb. 6-March 16, Lantern Theater Company, St. Stephen’s Theater, 10th and Ludlow Streets. Tickets start at $10.

Animated Shakespeare Family Film Series, Feb. 10, 4:30 p.m., Roxborough Library, 6245 Ridge Ave.

Making Shakespearean Masks, Feb. 24, 3:30 p.m., David Cohen Ogontz Library, 6017 Ogontz Ave.

Shakespeare Trivia With Bob, March 12, 6:30 p.m., Parkway Central Library.

Beware the Ides of March!, March 15, 2 p.m., Chestnut Hill Library, 8711 Germantown Ave.

Romeo and Juliet, April 4-May 18, Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, 2111 Sansom St. Tickets start at $10.

Many Free Library locations will be hosting film screenings, craft sessions, and more, in addition to those listed above, and more events will be added throughout the year. For up-to-date details, including times and locations, visit the library website: www.freelibrary.org/bard.