Shakespeare’s 450th birthday: Inner-city Bard, ‘Chickspeare’ and more

A portrait of William Shakespeare attributed to a little-known artist named John Taylor, and dated by experts to between 1600 and 1610, the Chandos portrait provides an unusually bohemian image of Shakespeare, dressed in black, sporting a gold hoop earring and with the strings on his white collar rakishly untied, on display at the National Portrait Gallery in London as part of an exhibition, Searching for Shakespeare, of portraits and manuscripts from Shakespeare's lifetime, Wednesday, March 1, 2006. (AP Photo/Sang Tan)

William Shakespeare’s 450th birthday falls on Wednesday, per historians’ best reckoning in the absence of ironclad documentation. It’s time to remember that “in delay there lies no plenty,” as the Bard told us in “Twelfth Night,” and thus make the most of the opportunity to celebrate the milestone that’s at hand.

If it’s stars you want for the birthday festivities, then the “Evening of Shakespeare, Music and Love” on Friday at the Moss Theater at New Roads School in Santa Monica is your $100 ticket. Jane Seymour, Malcolm McDowell, Michael York and Harry Hamlin are among the 19 performers who’ll deliver sonnets, dramatic readings and songs from the birthday boy’s quill pen.

Part of the proceeds will go to the Hobart Elementary Shakespeareans and the Inner City Shakespeare Ensemble -- local youth programs busy molding Shakespeareans.


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The event is part of the annual BritWeek festival of British arts and culture in L.A., which of course is not about to let the 450th birthday pass without multiple opportunities to celebrate. It’s also a sponsor of “Chickspeare,” Saturday and Sunday on the patio of ComedySportz Theatre in Hollywood. An all-female improv comedy cast will make up its own facsimile of a Shakespeare play on the fly, for $17 a ticket.

BritWeek also is a cosponsor of two afternoon Shakespeare events on May 4. L.A. Theatre Works’ high-definition videocast from London of the National Theatre’s production of “Othello,” which stars Adrian Lester, screens at 2 p.m. at UCLA’s James Bridges Theater with tickets $20, $10 for students.

Almost simultaneously, there’ll be a free staging of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Grand Park, with a cast of students from the aforementioned Inner City Shakespeare program. The 3 p.m. performance is part of a larger free Shakespeare Festival in the downtown park that starts at 2 p.m.

Before taking their show downtown, the Inner City Shakespeare Ensemble teens will perform “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at 3 p.m. Saturday at the Ladera Park amphitheater, kicking off a tour that also includes stops May 10 at Monteith Park and, fittingly enough for a comedy set in the magical woods near ancient Athens, May 17 at Athens Park in Willowbrook.

A Noise Within, the classical stage company in Pasadena, will be stirring the pot, so to speak, for the Bard’s birthday with performances Thursday and Sunday of its ongoing production of “Macbeth.”


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The company has announced that the birthday boy himself, or at least an actor playing him, will stop by to blow out candles and share cupcakes with his fans in a free, family-oriented birthday party starting at 5:30 p.m. Sword-fighting demonstrations and lessons and “a bouncy castle” are also promised. Shakespeare plays will bookend the coming 2014-15 season recently announced by A Noise Within, with “The Tempest” this fall and “Julius Caesar” next spring.

Alas, poor Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles. We’re sure its 450th birthday celebration would have proved most royally, as Fortinbras said of the newly dead Hamlet. But leader Ben Donenberg informs us that the readiness was not quite all, this time around: “We had an event planned, but the star dropped out.”

While Shakespeare wrote in a sonnet that April “hath put a spirit of youth in everything,” it also puts a bit of a chill in the spring night air of Topanga Canyon. Consequently, Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum, also devoted to stage classics, will hold off on its 450th birthday festivities until it gets warmer.

The company has announced an all-Shakespeare outdoor season to mark the anniversary. “King Lear,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “All’s Well That Ends Well” and “Much Ado About Nothing” will run in repertory starting June 7, along with “Equivocation,” contemporary playwright Bill Cain’s drama that imagines the Bard agonizing over a tricky commission from King James, who wants to commandeer the undisputed greatest grandmaster of the English language and the English-speaking stage for his own propagandistic purposes.

Here’s something for Millennials to look forward to: marking William Shakespeare’s 500th birthday with their children and grandchildren on April 23, 2064.


The Bard not only was born on April 23, 1564, but (talk about “fearful symmetry,” a poetic phrase coined by William Blake) died on the same day in 1616. That puts the 400th anniversary of his death just up ahead.


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