Shakespeare marathon to help charity

Complete works to be read by professionals, students, community, with proceeds to benefit oncology program.

The entire works of William Shakespeare will be brought to life during a week-long reading marathon titled “Shakespeare for Life.”

The event will kick off with the reading of “As You Like It” on Friday evening, April 26, and conclude on Friday, May 3, with the dramatization of “Hamlet.” Over the course of the event, 35 other plays will be read aloud in their entirety by folks ranging from professional actors to enthusiastic high school students.

The event is being held at the Dayton Visual Arts Center in downtown Dayton. Organizers say slots are still available for readers and everyone is welcome to drop by just to watch and listen. The week is broken down into 37 four-hour shifts, one for each play.

Although a $25 donation per reader is suggested, no one will be turned away and attendees are welcome to contribute whatever they can afford. Proceeds from the Relay-For-Life will be divided between the event sponsors — “Free Shakespeare” — and the oncology clinic at Grandview Medical Center in Dayton. Last year, the inaugural event raised $3,400, with one-half going to the American Cancer Society.

The one-week event concludes with a ceremony to honor and celebrate loved ones affected by cancer.

How it started

It’s no surprise that the bright idea comes from the creative mind of Chris Shea, the Dayton native who’s been running a non-profit theatrical troupe devoted to the Bard of Avon since 2009. His Free Shakespeare group stages free productions in the area in the summertime; what began with 12 performances in four venues, has grown to include 16 shows in seven venues spanning two states. The group also sponsors play readings on the first Monday of every month at DVAC.

“Shakespeare is not meant to be read silently to oneself,” said Shea, who fell in love with theater when he performed with Muse Machine as a teenager, and later found himself captivated by Shakespeare when he was involved with a production of “Romeo and Juliet” at Sinclair Community College. Shea says the directors, Marsha Hanna and Rocco Dal Vera, helped students unlock the secrets Shakespeare provides. He later spent a year in Seattle, where he performed Shakespeare with a company called Green Stage.

“He was a master of rhythm and rhyme, and those things naturally come out when the verse is spoken aloud,” said Shea, who likes to compare verse speaking to surfing. “The rhythm is inherent; all you have to do is hop on the wave and ride it out. Like surfing, sometimes the wave overtakes you and you end up with a mouth full of salt water, but it remains an exhilarating experience nonetheless. And, like everything else, with practice and familiarity, it becomes easier.”

Shea, who grew up in Dayton and Kettering, also has worked as a resident artist with Muse Machine and is a theater adjunct faculty member at Stivers School for the Arts and a fill-in “Excursions” host at WYSO-Radio.

He says the goal when performing Shakespeare is always to have fun. Those who’ve participated in the past seem to agree.

What others say

Julie Duhl says she considers herself lucky to have been one of the readers at the inaugural event in 2012 and plans to return this year. She insists no experience is necessary.

“One does not have to know anything about Shakespeare or be a good reader or public speaker, you literally just jump into a group of readers and take a turn reading… it’s that easy,” she said. “The fun part is that you find yourself really getting into it — the other readers (or maybe you) tend to take on accents or various voice registers depending upon what character they are playing, and it just gets really funny”

Duhl, who is from Moraine, said it’s especially humorous in the middle of the night when readers begin to get slap-happy.

“As you read,” she explained, “you begin to realize that this guy Shakespeare intended for people to have fun with his brilliant words and characters.”

Sommer McGuire of Fairborn has been a fan of Free Shakespeare since she and her toddler happened upon a production in an Oregon District park more than two years ago. A one-time thespian and community activist, McGuire says she especially loves the focus of the work and its “guerrilla-style execution.”

“It’s theater for the people, by the people and in, amongst and around the people,” said McGuire, who sat in on a reading of “Henry VIII” at last year’s marathon and looks forward to bringing friends with her this year.

Groups on the upcoming schedule range from businesses to high school clubs and groups of friends. Visitors will see and hear folks from the Victoria Theatre Association, Ghostlight Coffee, Kamela & Company Realtors, the Radical Giraffe advertising agency. Centerville High School’s theater department is also bringing a team, so is the Dayton Metro Library.

Reading for charity

Shea says after his father died of colon cancer in 2010, the family donated his dad’s leftover ostomy supplies to the Oncology Clinic at Grandview Medical Center, where indigent patients who are uninsured or underserved can receive chemotherapy treatment and cancer care. In addition to that cause, he says the marathon also helps to ensure that audiences throughout our region can enjoy free live Shakespeare productions.

A Shakespeare for Life Silent Auction will benefit both the hospital, the Shakespeare group and DVAC. Among the items to be auctioned are Shakespeare-centric pieces by artists Charmaine Griffeth, Patrick Mauk and Issa Randall. Other area artists donating work include Laurana Wong, Ron Rollins and Pat Antonick.

Mike Hall and his wife Elizabeth are professional actors from Cincinnati who came to Dayton last year to read “Othello” for the marathon event. The two had worked with Shea on other theater projects, and Elizabeth had portrayed Queen Gertrude in Free Shakespeare’s’s first production of “Hamlet.”

“We read with a few other actors, none of whom I knew,” Mike Hall said. “All in all, it was a great experience. By this point, the experiment had been running for several days, and Chris was noticeably tired. But it moved smoothly, we took one 10-minute break and everyone had a great time. I was really in awe of how Chris stayed with the whole thing. I really believe Guinness needs to take notice this time around.”

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