The Bard is celebrating a whopper of a birthday this year on Saturday, April 23, coming in at 452 years of age. Ironically, it is also the 400th anniversary of his death as traditionally believed by many Shakespearean scholars. To commemorate this occasion, Baton Rouge will be participating in Talk Like Shakespeare on Sunday, April 24.
Spearheaded by Playmakers Baton Rouge, the event is a first of its kind for the Red Stick as it celebrates and honors Shakespeare’s contributions to the written word.
“It’s been a bit of a national trend,” said Playmakers Artistic Director Colt Neidhardt. “Chicago Shakespeare Theatre created this event back in 2008 and then it’s kind of been taken on in all sorts of other cities in the country, so we thought why not bring it to Baton Rouge?”
While speaking in Elizabethan tongue is a huge part of the day, there are also events lined up through partnerships with Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge, Forward Arts, LSU School of Theatre, Capitol City Grill, the Manship Theatre and the Louisiana Renaissance Fair, according to Neidhardt.
“The partnerships that we’ve created with all of these other arts organizations came about through the Arts Council and their new initiative called Common Ground,” Neidhardt said. “The idea was to bring all of the local arts groups together to basically pull resources, to talk about what they’re doing that works, what doesn’t work, how they can help each other and just to get groups working together to make new things. So this definitely came out of that.”
One of the main things that Neidhardt is excited about from the collaboration is the performance of original sonnets by Forward Arts, a local youth slam poetry group.
“They’re taking Shakespeare’s form of the sonnet, how you would actually write it and then they’re writing about their own lives or contemporary society, so that is kind of bridging the gap between old Shakespeare and new Shakespeare as it were.”
The sonnet performances will begin at 3:15 p.m. The full schedule of events also includes performances by Soul Jukeboxx at 2-3:15 p.m. and at 3:30-5 p.m., the Louisiana Renaissance Faire will do a demonstration from 11 a.m. to noon and LSU Theatre will present an abbreviated version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at noon to 1:30 p.m.
Mayor-President Kip Holden will also present an official proclamation at 2 p.m., declaring Sunday, April 24th as “Talk Like Shakespeare Day” to celebrate the 4th centennial of the life of the man many consider to be the greatest playwright in the English language. Along with his theatrical contributions, Shakespeare is also very important to the development of many phrases and idioms we say to this very day.
“I just think this day is important to us because we can bridge the gap between theatre as a performance and theatre that is more accessible for an entire community,” Neidhardt said. “Shakespeare is something that has been obviously taught for forever, and we still use all of these words and phrases today that he created. I think that’s the most powerful thing about him; he wasn’t just a great writer, he was a wordsmith. He created new words and new ideas that still affect us today. So that’s definitely something that is worthy of us acknowledging.”
For the general public who would like to be involved, Neidhardt says they should visit talklikeshakespeareday.org, which is full of suggestions on how to participate in the classroom, at work or at home and is sponsored by founding organization Chicago Shakespeare Theatre.
Signature cocktails will be available for adult patrons through Capitol City Grill and the Manship Theatre, who will be offering discounts to patrons who speak like Shakespeare. These festive Elizabethan spirits include “a Mintsummer Night’s Dream,” “The Taming of the Shrewdriver” and the “Bloody Mary Queen of Scots.” There will also be Shakespearean costume masks and Elizabethan collars available to try on and take pictures with to post on Instagram.
“A lot of the day is about demystifying Shakespeare and making him more accessible to people,” Neidhart said. “We just want people to have fun with it…We want to prove that this is something that matters to Louisiana and something that can be a great cultural asset to the community.”