Festival Ensures That Bardtalk Isn't Greek to Students

If Shakespearean dialogue sometimes sounds like a foreign language to native English speakers, then how are students in ESL (English as a Second Language) programs supposed to decipher all that Elizabethan English?

Some of them will have the opportunity to do so this summer at Shakespeare Festival/LA's production of "Romeo and Juliet." The festival has developed a Shakespeare-for-ESL curriculum--the first such program in the United States, claim festival officials--and will begin training teachers in it next month. A hefty percentage of the 10,000 students who are expected to see this summer's show will be ESL students.

The curriculum will emphasize paraphrasing, listening to recordings and studying visual materials instead of sentence parsing.

Admission is free to the festival's July 7-25 run at the John Anson Ford Theatre. Then the production will move to South Coast Botanic Gardens for a July 28-Aug. 8 engagement with an admission charge, followed by another free run at downtown's Citicorp Plaza, Aug. 11-22.

Until now, the festival has presented only comedies; this will be its first production of a tragedy. It's a popular play this year; two "Romeos" are running now in smaller theaters and GroveShakespeare will mount its own updated version in September.

'LA BETE' ALFRESCO: "Romeo" won't be the only play at the alfresco John Anson Ford Theatre this summer. Stages Theatre Center plans to present "La Bete" as the one theatrical component of the county-sponsored "Summer Nights at the Ford" series, Aug. 31-Sept. 12.

David Hirson's mock-Moliere comedy was a $2 million flop on Broadway in 1991 but nonetheless attracted a devoted following. This will be the California premiere.

It will be an expensive undertaking for Stages. The company usually operates at a 49-seat theater, on Actors' Equity's 99-Seat Theater Plan, which requires only token payments to Equity members. Few Stages productions feature more than a handful of actors. But The Ford seats 1,269, and "La Bete" will use a cast of 12.

Stages artistic director Paul Verdier, who will direct the play, was discussing possible contracts with Equity last week. He said the production--with its lavish costumes and wigs as well as salaries for actors and technicians--will cost Stages as much as $70,000 or $80,000--half of the group's normal annual budget. Tony Abatemarco will play the lead role.

"La Bete" was placed at the end of the county festival, said the county's Music and Performing Arts Commission executive director Laura Zucker, so it could extend beyond the two scheduled weeks if it's doing well. Asked why it got the festival's only theater slot, Zucker cited site suitability ("Moliere was performed in spaces very similar to this"), the fact that the play hadn't been done in the area, and the general artistic excellence and stability of Stages' track record. The entire festival will reflect the diversity of the county's population, she added, though "not each production is supposed to be all things to all people."

THE LAWEES: Some of the most memorable lines uttered at the LA Weekly's annual theater awards ceremony Monday night are unprintable in a family newspaper.

Let's just say that the emcees of this year's awards, at the Tom Bradley Theatre of Los Angeles Theatre Center, were cast members from "The Miss Vagina Pageant," a production that also won two awards, in the comedy ensemble and direction categories. There were plenty of jokes focusing on anatomical analogies.

The audience also witnessed the pageant's "Miss Pennsylvania" sing her lachrymose takeoff on gushy pop songs, "If Wishes Were Rainbows, So Am I."

Only sub-100-seat theaters are eligible for the Lawees, which are selected by vote of the Weekly critics. As usual, the awards were flung far and wide among these smaller theaters. Nineteen productions from 13 different venues, plus director and actor Alan Mandell, won honors.

Mandell used his acceptance of a career achievement award to lambaste "the bungling of the city, the CRA and the Cultural Affairs Department" in the collapse of the LATC company and urged the audience to press the importance of the city's theatrical scene to the multitudes of mayoral candidates. "More than attention must be paid," he declared.

Among producing organizations, the Cast Theatre was out in front, with eight awards going to Cast shows, including three for "Melody Jones," the most for any single show. Runner-up companies were Theatre of NOTE and the Actors' Gang, with three awards each.

The Gang's "Woyzeck" won production of the year. The Colony Studio Theater won two other top awards, the revival of the year--"The Front Page"--and musical of the year--"Candide." Deaf West Theater Company received a humanitarian achievement award.

MORE AWARDS: Last week the Lawees, now the Oscars . . . and next Sunday, the already announced Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle awards will be passed out. The luncheon ceremony in Studio City is open to the public, and for the first time, a portion of the proceeds will go to Equity Fights AIDS. Information: (213) 466-1767.

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