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National Shakespeare tour to visit Eugene in 2004.

Byline: Fred Crafts The Register-Guard

The National Endowment for the Arts is putting William Shakespeare on the road - and sending him to Eugene.

The Bard will arrive at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts at 7:30 p.m. March 8-9, 2004, in the form of a production of "Othello" by the Acquila Theatre Company of New York City.

The production is one of six being sent around the nation through the NEA's new "Shakespeare in American Communities" project. Previously, the NEA gave grants to artists, rather than producing art itself.

In this program, the new NEA chairman, Dana Gioia, has bundled up federal resources, gone into partnership with Arts Midwest and signed six professional theater companies to handle legs of a tour that will reach all 50 states.

Gioia calls the project "the largest tour of Shakespeare in American history."

Besides performances, the tours will include artistic and technical workshops, symposia about the production and educational programs in local schools.

Educational projects will be done in at least 1,000 high schools across the nation.

"What we are trying to do here is to produce a program of indisputable artistic excellence, with an unprecedented public reach," Gioia said by phone from his office in Washington, D.C.

The six professional theater companies are expected to take Shakespeare's plays to at least 100 venues, mainly in medium-sized cities, between September 2003 and November 2004.

The companies are:

The Acting Company, New York (``Richard III'')

The Acquila Theatre Company, New York (``Othello'')

Arkansas Repertory Theatre, Little Rock, Ark. (``Romeo and Juliet'')

Artists Repertory Theatre, Portland (``A Midsummer Night's Dream,'' with actors from the Central Dramatic Company of Vietnam)

Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Chicago (``Romeo and Juliet'')

The Guthrie Theatre, Minneapolis (``Othello'')

A seventh theater company may be added later to take ``Macbeth'' to military bases in the United States.

Gioia said the ambitious project was undertaken to bring Shakespeare's plays to cities that have limited access to them - a qualification that would seemingly exclude Eugene, which regularly has productions by local high school, college, community and professional theater companies and which has easy access to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland and to Shakespeare-oriented Portland theater companies.

In touring plays to the hinterlands, Gioia said the NEA is reviving an American theatrical tradition in which Shakespeare's plays were performed in mining and river towns throughout the Old West.

"If you go back into the 19th century, Shakespeare was the most popular dramatist in every region of the country among all classes of Americans," Gioia said. "Shakespeare is one of the writers who, in a sense, helped shape America.

"We're excited not only in bringing him to more cities than any tour has in history but also introducing a whole new generation of Americans not only to Shakespeare but to live theater."
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Title Annotation:Entertainment
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 4, 2003
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