Just a year shy of William Shakespeare's 450th birthday, the arts community in St. Petersburg is celebrating the great English playwright and poet's work with a panoply of performing and visual arts.
The monthlong Shakespeare Festival begins Friday and will include orchestral and vocal music, movies, an art exhibit and children's activities as well as dramatic performances. Todd Olson, artistic director of American Stage and a passionate fan of the playwright's work, welcomes the expansive program. "The more our local theater-going audience can learn about Shakespeare, the more they'll want to see Shakespeare.
"Whenever you can experience these works that were inspired by Shakespeare and the work that inspired it together in a small window of time, that's wonderful."
The Shakespeare Festival is a collaboration involving American Stage Theatre Company, the Dalí Museum, the Florida Orchestra, Mahaffey Theater, St. Petersburg College School of Music, the Studio@620, Sunscreen Film Festival and the University of South Florida School of Music.
Hundreds of other cities around the world have Shakespeare festivals, but this is a first for St. Petersburg, and its moving force was the Florida Orchestra.
"There's so much great music inspired by Shakespeare we could spend a whole year playing it," says Angela Cassette, the orchestra's artistic operations director.
The festival opens with a Coffee Concert with Stuart Malina conducting six pieces based on Shakespeare's works. On Jan. 25, 26, and 27, the orchestra's Masterworks series presents Andrew Grams conducting Tchaikovsky's fantasy overtures to Hamlet, The Tempest and Romeo and Juliet. "Having January bookended with these performances," Cassette says, "we began thinking about expanding it. There are so many other arts organizations to work with" to create a festival.
The first collaboration that came about was with American Stage, which will perform scenes from the plays as preludes to each piece in the Masterworks concerts.
"Combining the music with acting and context will make it that much more powerful," Cassette says.
Olson, who directed many of American Stage's popular Shakespeare in the Park productions, will direct four actors in the preludes. "It's different to be doing these five- to seven-minute sections of the plays, but pairing them with this glorious music should be great."
The Dalí Museum is another major partner, Cassette says. Its "Much Ado About Shakespeare" exhibition will feature 31 drypoint engravings in which Spanish surrealist Salvador Dalí exuberantly reimagined the Bard's works, as well as two bound books filled with Dalí's illustrations: Macbeth, with some of the artist's most elaborate illustrations, and As You Like It, with his drawings of costumes and sets for a 1949 stage production.
The museum will also host a concert by students from St. Petersburg College, a family day and five Shakespeare-inspired films. "I'm very excited about the films," Cassette says. "I loved reading Shakespeare's plays, but they're meant to be performed. Having American Stage and these films gives people a chance to see that, and they've chosen some really interesting films."
The orchestra will also team with the Studio@620 for "An Intimate Collaboration: All the World's a Stage.'' Cassette says, "We do a series with them every year, and it made so much sense to tie in Shakespeare."
Besides bringing a rich and varied serving of Shakespeare to Tampa Bay audiences, the festival is forging links among the groups involved in presenting it. "We're very interested in doing an annual festival of some sort," Cassette says, perhaps focusing on other artists or historical periods.
As Olson says, "Whenever the different arts organizations can hold hands like this, when the arts community can come together, especially in this economy, it's a positive thing."