Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Shakespeare Theatre Company - Free for All: Twelfth Night

Being the only members of our family that live on the East Coast, J and I often find ourselves advocating for our beloved adopted city. Call it a reaction to the pervasive (at least in our circle) West Coast bias, if you will.

When trying to convince someone to come and visit, one of my go-to lines is, "Once you're here, everything you'll want to do is free," and it is true. Name the most popular tourist attractions for which DC is famous - the monuments, Capitol Building, White House, Smithsonian, and Arlington - and each one of them is free.

But there are plenty of things to do that charge admission and are well worth it. Chief among them would be the plentiful options for the performing arts, but if you play your cards right, even some of these lesser-known Washington institutions are free. Is this a great town or what?

In addition to the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage, which puts on free daily performances at 6pm, the Shakespeare Theatre Company partners with "community-minded" sponsors to present a series of free performances each year. Last weekend, J and I entered the online lottery (new this year, replacing the physical line) and got tickets to see Twelfth Night in the new Sidney Harmon Hall.

Having been a Shakespeare geek in school, this was a real treat. The last time I'd seen Shakespeare on stage was over 10 years ago in Stratford-upon-Avon (Shakespeare's hometown) and then at the reconstructed Globe Theatre (a recreation of Shakespeare's theater) in London. I told you I was a Shakespeare geek...

Needless to say, it would have been easy to turn up my nose at a "lesser" free production, but that was far from the case. Everything was first class. The theater was beautiful, comfortable, and despite sitting 3 rows from the back, had great sight lines. The acting was very good, the set design was minimal yet beautifully done, and the overall artistic production was top notch.

I love the idea of exposing Shakespeare to the non-traditional theater-going crowd via the Free for All and judging by the diversity of attire, it was working. Helpful hint: the t-shirt, basketball shorts, and flip-flop ensemble that was sported by more than one attendee is not the preferred dress. That said, being theater-appropriate is far from the point of this exercise. Rather, the goal is to get people in the door who would not normally spend a Saturday evening in iambic pentameter.

Hopefully newcomers saw that experiencing Shakespeare live is such a different experience than seeing it on the page. What is often perceived as high-brow culture is littered with crass innuendo and complete silliness that even appeals to those of us who don't understand every last antiquated word. Whether you're a Shakespeare geek or not, I bet you'll like this performance. And even if not, the price is still right.

J Says

I am unequivocally, most definitely, NOT a Shakespeare geek. While I love to read and have read quite a bit of Shakespeare thanks to a great high school English teacher, I just never got along very well with the great Billy S. Needless to say, B was much more excited about the prospect of free Shakespeare tickets than I was. Mostly, I was thinking about what fun dinner options surround the theater. But I put on my big girl pants and we made our way to the show.

While we waited for the doors to open, I sipped a specialty Twelfth Night cosmopolitan ($7) and had a good time watching the people stream into the lobby. As B said, there was quite the variety of outfits to check out.

We settled into our seats in the gorgeous theater, and, after a welcome from Kwame Brown (the DC Council member, not the Washington Wizards' biggest flop), the show began. While I couldn't understand every word, thanks to a helpful synopsis in the program, I found myself following along and (gasp) even enjoying myself. The acting was terrific and there were enough jokes and costume changes to keep things moving along nicely. The fact that 3 hours passed without me nodding off or making up songs in my head is proof that it was a good show. I read that Ruth Bader Ginsburg was at the show last weekend. If it's good enough for a Supreme Court justice, it is good enough for me.

The Free for All runs through September 5th so log on and try your luck before time runs out! It might even make a Shakespeare geek out of you.

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