FAIRBANKS - Like those golden days of yesteryear, when night arrives and the winter cold sets in, it’s time to huddle around the radio and listen to thrilling adventures, tales of deception, high drama and uproarious comedy.
But rather than shows such as the Lone Ranger or the Tales of Sherlock Holmes, listeners can instead gather around the computer and tune into the complete works of William Shakespeare, read end-to-end without break.
Readings begin at Saturday at 8 p.m. with “The Tempest,” and can be streamed live at www.fstalaska.org.
The event is called Bard-a-Thon, and for the host Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre, this will be the 11th consecutive year the event has been held. Members of FST, but also the other drama groups, the public and anyone interested or curious about Shakespeare is welcome to show up at the Empress Theatre, take on a role, and read.
“A lot of people who have liked Shakespeare all along but never had the opportunity to listen or read it out loud with other people,” show up to read, explained FST Artistic Director Bruce Rogers, who created the event. “A lot of people who wouldn’t do a play will come in and listen or read with us.
“It’s a great family thing. You can bring your friends, neighbors — and kids eat it up,” he added.
Rogers came upon the Bard-a-Thon idea 11 years ago while on a cross-country bus ride. At the time, he had but one book with him, but it was a doozy: “The Riverside, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare.” If that wasn’t enough of the Bard, Rogers also took in numerous plays on his journey. When he got back to Fairbanks, inspiration struck.
“When I got back, I didn’t have any money, and couldn’t get a break on a theater space in town,” he said. “So we rented, cheaply, the Masonic Temple, and that’s where we were the first four or five years. We just did it.”
Now with a set space, the event is much more organized, but still open to the spontaneity of anyone who walks in. Rogers explained that while most people read one or maybe a few plays, some attempt to read them all. (Plays are spaced at four-hour intervals, which frequently allows some rest time between readings.)
“One year I did 33 of the plays,” he said with a laugh, while admitting that “I slept through some of the poetry.”
Last year UAF student Rhi Johnson won the award of Bard Junkie by equaling that total.
All told, there are 37 plays, plus sonnets ands songs to be read.
A new addition this year is a school-vs.-school competition. Each school will have a station in the theater, where students sign in and have their attendance logged for the competition. There will be prizes for the student who reads the most plays from each school as well as a grand prize for the student who spends the most hours reading at Bard-a-Thon.
“This is a true community event, an educational event,” Rogers said. “A lot of students come. During weekdays, different schools come in and hear a play.”
Rogers added that one of the best aspects of Bard-a-Thon is that the readers — particularly students — actually get to feel what Shakespeare is all about. The key, he said, is to hear the words rather than to read silently.
“It’s about 80 percent different,” he emphasized. “People come out of high school and don’t really like Shakespeare. They read it, talk about it and take a test, but they don’t really know it. It’s not literature that way, it’s a play. It’s meant to be (heard) out loud. Magical things happen when you do it out loud. Everybody really gets into it, trying to figure it out. Anyone can read any part, and suddenly they make a discovery right there in front of you. It’s out loud, it’s happening, it’s a live theater event. ... When you read them out loud, they come alive.”
Contact features editor Glenn BurnSilver at 459-7510.
IF YOU GO
What: 11th annual Bard-a-thon
When: 7 p.m. Saturday to midnight Jan. 23
Where: Empress Theatre, Third Avenue in the Co-Op Building, streaming live at www.fstalaska.org
Information: www.fstalaska.org or 457-7638