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Updated 1:30 PM April 26, 2008




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U-M drama students heading to Kennedy Center stage in D.C.

Inspired by William Shakespeare's compelling comedic characters, U-M drama students will create an original work drawing on the clowns and fools from the famous bard's plays.

The production, entitled "Quick Comedians and Changeable Taffeta," will be presented at 6 p.m. May 9-10 at the Kennedy Center Family Theatre in Washington, D.C.

"We are excited about the invitation and to offer a contemporary interpretation of Shakespeare's comedic characters," says Gregory Poggi, chair and professor of theater and drama at the School of Music, Theatre & Dance.

The Kennedy Center Education department commissioned the U-M drama department to bring a new production to the stage. The project draws on three established Kennedy programs — Performing Arts for Everyone, The Shakespeare Project and Millennium Stage.

The students' work, performed live in the Family Theatre, will be simulcast and then archived on the Kennedy Center Web site.

"Finding new and compelling ways to connect with audiences is an ongoing challenge, and our students are getting a first-hand look at the power of filmed productions, broadcast and the Internet in creating a 21st-century theatrical experience," Poggi says.

The nine-actor ensemble is devising this new work with director Malcolm Tulip, assistant professor of theater and drama. They are involved in the process from assembling the scenes from Shakespeare's complete works to the constructing of the performance in the rehearsal room.

"The nature and scope of the production highlights and expands the students' talents," says Tulip, a longtime comedic performer who has toured internationally. "These characters are archetypes in the history of western comedy and offer invaluable insight into human foibles and human nature. We hope to reveal these historic roots as vibrant, contemporary and alive."

Clowns or fools appear in most of Shakespeare's dramas. While the clown often appears simple-minded, Shakespeare's fools are more complex and varied. Some are witty and philosophical, while others show a dark side or are employed as foils.

Among Shakespeare's most notable clown/fool characters are Bottom of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," Dogberry of "Much Ado About Nothing," Touchstone from "As You Like It," Launce from "Two Gentlemen of Verona," Lear's Fool and Feste of "Twelfth Night."

The student ensemble includes Rebecca Whatley, Mckean Scheu, Brian Holden, John Jarboe, Lily Marks, Joey Richter, Nicholas Strauss-Matathia, Seth Moore and Pat Rourke.

The production crew includes students Angela Kiessel, stage manager, and Yael Kiken, assistant director; theater professor Gary Decker, lighting designer; and theater alumna Taran Muller, costume designer.

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