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‘All the world’s a stage’: Shakespeare on Stratford to return to Ditmas Park

The cast of the most recent Shakespeare on Stratford performance in 2019.
Jody Christopherson

A Ditmas Park side street will come alive with music and poetry for the first time in two years this weekend. 

Shakespeare on Stratford will return to Stratford Road on April 24, marking Brave New World Repertory Theatre’s first in-person performance since the coronavirus shuttered performance venues last March.

“It’s beyond thrilling,” said artistic director Claire Beckman. “I’ve been looking forward to this since it was canceled last April.”

The open-air performance has taken place for years on Stratford Road — named for the bard’s birthplace of Stratford-upon-Avon in the United Kingdom — where thespians take advantage of the neighborhood’s sizable porches and tree-lined streets to mark Shakespeare’s birth month of April.

To simplify things and comply with Centers for Disease Control guidance, this year’s spectacle will consist of compact 20-minute bursts, featuring sonnets, madrigals, and a culminating musical performance, said Beckman.

A total of 19 costumed singers, actors, and dancers will be stationed along eight porches, while attendees are guided in spaced out groups from deck to deck to see performers dance, and hear segments of the playwright’s sonnets and madrigals — musical compositions sung by several voices — as well as an instrumental performance by Jennifer Milich and The Lonesome Sea, who will perform the traditional piece, “The Cuckoo.”

“Spring is a huge part of the sonnets, the theme of love and rebirth and hope,” said Beckman, who is co-directing the performance alongside Nancy Shankman and Sheila Anozier, who are directing the vocal and dance components, respectively. “I think this year it’s something much deeper for all of us, it’s a very hopeful time.”

The dance component features a section composed by Anozier, which starts out as a traditional piece with renaissance-era undertones before evolving into an energetic finale that takes cues from Afro-Haitian dances. 

“It really just explodes with a solo that’s just fabulous,” said Beckman. 

The performance is among the first to take advantage of warmer temperatures as New York inches toward a post-pandemic future, and theaters plan for reopening. In the meantime, Brave New World has found itself uniquely positioned for pandemic performances, having long staged outdoor productions.

“I do feel that our theater company is uniquely situated and qualified for this sort of thing because we’ve always done site specific theatre, this is our shtick,” said Beckman. “To be one of the first live performances happening in the city is a real honor, and really exciting.” 

Shakespeare on Stratford Spring Festival, April 24 at 3:30 pm — 5:30 pm on Stratford Road between Slocum Place and Matthews Court in Ditmas Park. Reservations at bravenewworldrep.org.

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