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Parting is such sweet sorrow

The lights had not yet gone down for the final presentation of the Shakespeare by the River production of A Midsummer Night's Dream in Sims Park on Sunday, but, already, the three main festival organizers were huddling to talk about next year.

"We already have in mind two shows that we might do," said Marie Skelton, who helped put together the first-ever event. She declined to say what they are, but said Romeo and Juliet is a strong contender.

Other topics were logistical changes and possible date changes.

"We're definitely going to start the plays earlier," she said. "And we're going to have some music (in the play)." As for the date, mid February seemed to remain the choice.

"It's about the only time something else isn't going on down here (in the park)," Skelton said.

Festival organizers agreed that the unusually balmy weather helped attendance for the inaugural events. Even so, Friday's opening night show lost about one-third of the audience at intermission when an unexpectedly cool wind came in off the nearby river.

Saturday night's crowd was three or four times larger, and virtually no one left at intermission, said Charlie Skelton, who conceived the idea of a Shakespeare play in Sims Park two months ago.

"They came prepared this time," he said.

The original idea for Shakespeare by the River was to do three presentations of a Shakespeare play in Sims Park - and that's all.

Then Ann Scott at the New Port Richey Library heard about it through the grapevine and called the Skeltons about including Shakespeare-related events at the library. A fiddle concert and movie on Saturday were well-attended, Scott said. On Sunday, the library parking lot was filling up a half hour before the day's movie began.

The festival grew even more a few days after the library jumped on board, when Lin Dobbs of the New Port Richey area's branch of the Society for Creative Anachronism educational organization heard about it and called Scott about being a part of the weekend.

"We don't usually perform for the public," said Dobbs, whose SCA name is Hon. Lady Gwenllyan verch Morgan. But because the group usually practices in full garb (the SCA term for period clothing) every weekend anyway, why not be part of the Shakespeare fest, she said.

By late Sunday, between 80 and 100 SCA members from six counties had donned their authentically reproduced Middle Ages clothing to demonstrate fighting with sword, shield and armor; calligraphy; and the elements of a catapult to appreciative onlookers.

David Torres - known as Pentara de la Torres in the SCA - was in full Spanish adventurer garb, as was Squire of Sir Bryan, Dan Semirosum of New Port Richey. Bryan A. Randolph - Randwulf aet Blackwulveslea to his SCA comrades - of Tampa was on hand with his trained dogs.

The half dozen or so food vendors at the event said they had had brisk business during the three-day festival.

"This was very good, for a first time (event)," said Alan Ginn of Alan's North Carolina Barbecue.

Captain Kelly's pontoon boat was full for most of the 30-minute jaunts up and down the Cotee River, said those waiting on the dock for their turn. Talks, seminars and guitar concerts in Peace Hall drew dozens of Shakespeare fans.

The festival also had thespian groups from Mitchell High School and River Ridge High School.

"We hope to get the high school groups even more involved next year," Charlie Skelton said.

A meeting of festival organizers and participants will be held within the next two weeks to start work on next year's events, Skelton said.