Petaluma’s Phoenix to feature a night of short-order Shakspeare

An evening of Shakespeare shorts with $500 prize|

Everyone’s heard that famous Shakespeare speech (or some of it, anyway) about how all the world is a stage, and how men and woman are just actors walking on and off. How each one of us gets to play a lot of different parts in their life, beginning with the role of a baby (“Mewling and puking,” thanks Shakespeare!) and a whining student, then a young lover, “Sighing like a furnace.” Then on into playing an elderly individual (“Last scene of all, that ends this strange history”), with some fairly alarming-but-accurate descriptions of what playing that part entails (“sans teeth, sans eyes. Sans everything …”).

It’s actually a great speech.

And the point that old Shakespeare is making in it - that our lives are endless opportunities to perform short little scenes, all linked together into one big show called human existence - is especially interesting in the context of this weekend’s “A Night of Shakespeare Shorts” at the Phoenix Theater, Saturday, April 6, at 8 p.m.

Partly a Shakespeare showcase and birthday party (the playwright turns 455 on April 26) and partly a big fundraiser (for Petaluma Shakespeare Company), the event is also a community variety show blended with a TV-style, Shakespeare-themed performance competition (maybe they should have called it “So You Think You Can Act?”). The word-powered extravaganza features dozens of Sonoma County actors performing short scenes from Shakespeare plays, resulting in one team taking home a $500 prize for Best Scene of the Evening. There will also be secondary prizes of $100 for Best Dramatic Scene and Best Comedic Scene.

“A Night of Shakespeare Shorts” is a group effort, co-created by Crispin Clarke (of Petaluma’s Shakesprints card company), the Phoenix Theater, and artists from Petaluma Shakespeare Company, which annually stages free Shakespeare on the Foundry Wharf lawn. Organizers began soliciting applications from local actors in the fall of last year. Each scene must be lifted from a Shakespeare play, and be no longer than 10-minutes. Creativity and entertainment value will be considered in judging each scene, which will be performed with live musical interludes performed by local musicians. The secondary prizes will be awarded based on audience reaction, but the big $500 prize will be decided on by a panel of esteemed Bay Area Shakespeare aficionados and experts.

Those judges will include Beth Kellerman Fouts (Education Director of Marin Shakespeare Company), director David Lear (Artistic Director of Shakespeare in the Cannery), actor-director Sheri Lee Miller (Artistic Director of Spreckels Performing Arts Center), Chloe Bronzan (of Symmetry Theater Company and Shakespeare Festival in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico) and Barton Smith (Universal Studios fight choreographer).

Petaluma’s own Professor John Langdon, recently returned from London - where he’s been teaching Shakespeare in the Bard’s own original stomping grounds – will be hosting the event, dropping informational tidbits about Shakespeare along the way. In addition, the show will include a live comedic performance by Petaluma actor Jeffrey Weissman, who’s appeared on many local stages and in the films “Back to the Future II & II,” “Pale Rider” and “Twilight Zone: The Movie.”

The idea for the Shakespeare Shorts show was reportedly the result of a conversation between the producing parties, musing about how to create more local performance opportunities for gifted young actors. That April is the month of Shakespeare’s birthday made it the logical time to hold such a show, and with the Phoenix Theater already ensconced as Petaluma’s primary arts center for young folks, it was a no brainer that the event should take place right there.

A Kickstarter campaign was held last year to raise the money for prizes and other expenses.

In addition to the prize money, it’s no small thing that the contestants will be strutting their stuff in front of some of the most important theater-makers in the area. Just don’t call it an “audition.” In fact, the producers would prefer we call it a birthday party, because that’s a big part of what it is. There will even be a birthday cake for good old William S.

“All the world” might be a stage, but this weekend, the stage that counts is the one at the Phoenix. And the participating young actors are definitely more than “merely players.” Some of them just might be playing a part in the future of Sonoma County theater.

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