If you think the works of William Shakespeare don’t affect you, think again. His plays have long since leapt off the stage to add vibrancy to arts and culture throughout the world, says Tim Scherman.
“Shakespeare was an innovator. He was experimenting with language and came up with hundreds of ways to enrich life with it,” Scherman, co-chair of the “Wilmette Does Shakespeare” Festival, said Friday.
And that’s why the District 39 Educational Foundation, which is sponsoring the festival as its 2011 Sam Mikaelian Fine Arts Event, has turned to The Bard of Avon.
The festival is already under way, and has been offering Wilmette residents and others the chance to get to know Shakespeare’s genius in numerous ways. Members of several area theatrical troupes and groups have provided performances.
Festivities culminate with a free performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at 3 p.m. Nov. 6 at Wilmette Junior High School, by the Oak Brook-based Equity company First Folio.
When planning for the Fine Arts Event began, “we wanted to do something in the dramatic arts,” Scherman said. “The name of Shakespeare kept coming up and that’s how ‘Wilmette Does Shakespeare’ came to be.”
“If you say you’re ‘standing on ceremony’ or if you’re ‘knitting your brow,’ you have Shakespeare to thank for it. Even the name Jessica was invented by Shakespeare because he thought it was mellifluous,” he said.
“And that kind of innovation perfectly matches the innovation that the foundation tries to create for our teachers and our curriculum.”
The fine arts event is a regular presentation of the nonprofit foundation that raises funds for educational projects. Although it normally takes place every other year, the scope of this year’s festival has broadened, and required more time to organize, Scherman said. It was a challenge for foundation organizers — preparation has been steady for nine months — but one they gladly shouldered, he added.
“It’s our chance to get the word out about the foundation,” he said. “We can remind people that we use funds we raise privately to test projects and curriculum enhancements for (District 39), to find the best ones, before public tax dollars get invested.”
First Folio players will also work with WJHS students throughout the week of Oct. 31 both in class and in spontaneous performances throughout the school, Scherman said.
In addition to live performances, the festival is offering two days of Shakespearan-inspired films on Nov. 4 and 5.
One of the festival’s most unique facets is its live “street theatre” offerings taking place throughout Wilmette. Lovers & Madmen, which is part of the Northwestern Student Theatre Coalition, has been creating what Scherman called “Shakespearean flash mobs” in some unexpected spots.
“Guerrilla theater is not for the faint of heart,” he said. “But they did things at the Washington Street Starbucks, for example, even the balcony scene from ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ where the manager, who was great, let them bring in a ladder.”
And, thanks to funding from the Wilmette Chamber of Commerce, festival-goers can enjoy an hour of street theater Nov. 5, starting at 3 p.m. on the Village Hall green, 1200 Wilmette Ave.
During “Shakespeare on the Green,” actors affiliated with the Chicago Shakespeare Theater will present short monologues and dialogues from Shakespeare’s greatest works, including “As You Like It,” “Much Ado About Nothing,” “Henry V” and “Macbeth.”
“The street theater was designed to bring Shakespeare to us here close to home; so I hope we all take advantage of it,” Scherman said. “We couldn’t be luckier, to have this group of performers coming to the center of town and performing for free.”
Shakespeare leaps to the screen in another aspect of the festival, which will take place the same day, just down the street from “Shakespeare on the Green” at the Wilmette Theatre, 1150 Wilmette Ave.
Scherman credited the festival’s rich film offerings to theater co-owner Carole Dibo: “Carole was one of the first people I went to because, after all, what’s a Shakespeare Festival without the chance to explore the film dimension, and she had some incredibly neat ideas,” he said.
“We’re excited,” Dibo said Monday. “We worked with Tim on which films would be a good match for the festival, what would be exciting, where it would be invigorating and would ignite conversation and be educational.”
Since the theater’s mission is to expose as many people in the community as possible to the arts, “to me it was an obvious date that we had to go on together,” she said.
Curated by Chad Byers, the theater’s general manager, “Will at the Mette” will run Nov. 4 and 5, giving movie-goers eight classic and contemporary versions of Shakespeare’s greatest works, from “Throne of Blood,” Akira Kurosawa’s interpretation of “Macbeth” to Kenneth Branagh’s “Hamlet” and a “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” starring Helen Mirren and Ian Holm.
As befits a multi-faceted project like Wilmette Does Shakespeare, organizers have dovetailed their events with programs already in place in Wilmette. One of those is at the Wilmette Public Library, where, even after the Festival is a thing of the past, patrons and visitors can continue to enjoy dynamic readings of Shakespeare’s plays and others from his era, courtesy of the Shakespeare Project of Chicago.
“The wonderful thing about this troupe is that they’re so good that 10 minutes into the show, you forget that they don’t have scenery and props,” Library spokeswoman Bonnie Forkosh said Monday.
Scherman praised the Friends of the Wilmette Public Library for sponsoring the troupe’s quarterly visits to the library. The 2011-12 season is the ninth in the series. It began Oct. 22 with a reading of “Richard II” and continues in January, February and April. For more information on the Shakespeare Project’s dates at the library, check http://www.wilmettelibrary.info/friends.
For information on the District 39 Education Foundation’s “Wilmette Does Shakespeare” festival, including live theater and Wilmette Theatre “Wil at the ‘Mette” film festival dates, go to http://wilmettedoesshakespeare.org,