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Prepare to warm up to some Shakespeare

It is almost time, as the duo in the musical Kiss Me, Kate, sing, to Brush Up Your Shakespeare. The first-ever Shakespeare by the River festival opens at 6 p.m. Friday and continues through 8:30 p.m. Sunday.

The city of New Port Richey issued a proclamation renaming the town "Stratford on the Cotee River" during the three-day festival.

"This is our gift to the community," said Charlie Skelton, president of the board of Richey Suncoast Theatre, which is sponsoring the fest along with the New Port Richey Library.

The festival includes three presentations of Shakespeare's magical fantasy, A Midsummer Night's Dream, on the stage in Sims Park (weather permitting; otherwise, it will be in Richey Suncoast Theatre), plus Elizabethan songs, musicians, food, lectures on Shakespeare, movies about Shakespeare's works, excerpts and interpretations of Shakespeare plays, readings of his sonnets, visits by the members of the Society for Creative Anachronism Inc. in period costume and a demonstration of birds of prey.

All events are free, courtesy of the sponsors. Those who attend the play and other stage shows should bring a lawn chair or blanket for seating, as chairs won't be provided.

There will be several food booths - barbecue, kettle korn, arepas (stuffed cornmeal griddle cakes), clam chowder, Italian ices and pastries, ribbon fries, homemade jams and jellies, beverages - so outside food or coolers aren't allowed. Capt. Kelly will be at the Cotee River dock for rides on the river at $5 apiece.

The weather is expected to be mild, but a jacket will probably be needed for the evening shows.

Events take place in Peace Hall adjacent to Sims Park, in the park itself, at the theater at 6237 Grand Blvd. and in the library on Main Street, all within walking distance of each other, Skelton said.

"We're trying to get everyone to walk around town," Skelton said. "That's one of the ideas behind the festival - see the arts and see the town."

The planners have even left open times in the festival's Saturday's schedule so people can eat at the downtown restaurants, he said.

The Society for Creative Anachronism Inc. will set up its village on Friday and be in Elizabethan costume to demonstrate characters and cultures from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The village includes food vendors and a booth selling period costumes, said Ann Scott, co-organizer of the festival.

FESTIVAL SCHEDULE

FRIDAY

6 p.m.: Opening ceremony and song and a talk by Diana Forgione, "The Globe Theatre Yesterday and Today," in Peace Hall; rides on the Cotee River with Capt. Kelly.

7:30 p.m.: Sword fights on the stage in Sims Park.

8 p.m.: A Midsummer Night's Dream, set in the 1930s on a movie soundstage, in Sims Park.

SATURDAY

11 a.m.: "History of the Globe Theatre" by Arthur Day at Richey Suncoast Theatre.

Noon: Birds of Prey from Homosassa Wildlife Park in Peace Hall; the Society for Creative Anachronism Inc.'s "Living History" in Sims Park; rides on the river with Capt. Kelly.

1 p.m.: The Thespians of River Ridge present several musical numbers in Peace Hall; actor Justin Sargent discusses, "Who Wrote Shakespeare's Plays?" in Richey Suncoast Theatre.

1:30 p.m.: Sword Fight! by Jonathan Tietz and Peter Porebski in Sims Park.

2-3 p.m.: The Mitchell High School Players do excerpts from their musical version of A Midsummer Night's Dream, set in the 1960s, in Sims Park.

3-4 p.m.: Fiddler Elan Chalford performs at the New Port Richey Library.

4:30-6:30 p.m.: Al Pacino's documentary, Looking for Richard, explaining Shakespeare's Richard III, with Alec Baldwin, Winona Ryder and Kevin Spacey, at the library.

6:30-8 p.m.: Dinner break throughout town.

8 p.m.: A Midsummer Night's Dream in Sims Park.

SUNDAY

Noon-4 p.m.: Society for Creative Anachronism Inc. village and characters in Sims Park.

1 p.m.: The Thespians of River Ridge perform musical numbers, Peace Hall.

1:30 p.m.: Sword Fight! with Jonathan Tietz and Peter Porebski in Sims Park.

2-3 p.m.: The Mitchell High School Players do excerpts from their musical version of A Midsummer Night's Dream, set in the 1960s, in Sims Park.

3-4 p.m.: Carmine Bell leads a presentation of Shakespeare's sonnets in Peace Hall.

4:30-6:10 p.m.: The Reduced Shakespeare Company's film, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), which compresses 37 of Shakespeare's plays into less than two hours, at the New Port Richey Library.

6:30-8:30 p.m.: A Midsummer Night's Dream in Sims Park.

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