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Fayette campus to host Shakespeare Festival

| Sunday, Feb. 2, 2003

The Bard is back.

The annual Shakespeare Festival celebrating the Bard of Avon will be held Monday through Friday at Penn State University's Fayette campus.

The festival will include a 7-9 p.m. performance Tuesday of the comedy "As You Like It," by the National Players, a touring company based at the Olney Theater at the University of Maryland.

Shakespeare-in-the-Schools, a company based at the University of Pittsburgh, will perform an abridged, 55-minute version of "The Comedy of Errors," starting at 12:30 p.m. Friday. The play follows the misadventures of two sets of long-lost twin brothers thrown together in the same town.

Although the Fayette campus, located along Route 119 between Connellsville and Uniontown, is far removed from England, Scotland, Denmark, Italy and the other locales where Shakespeare set his plays, it has proven fertile ground for the Bard.

Dennis F. Bretensky, an associate professor of English at the school, started the festival in 1972 in an effort to make Shakespeare more accessible to area residents. Some are a little wary of Shakespeare until they are exposed to his work, Bretensky has pointed out.

The festival has been a highlight of the school's calendar ever since, attracting both college students and area residents. Area high schools have also taken advantage of the opportunity for their students to see a quality Shakespeare production.

The National Players, who bill themselves as "America's Longest Running Classical Touring Company," have performed at the Fayette campus on numerous occasions. This is their 54th season on the road.

Bretensky also noted that this is the second year in a row the that the national company has chosen the same comedy that Fayette campus's own amateur troupe, the Lion Players, did last spring. "They're copying us," he protested slightly.

In addition to their performances, the two visiting troupes will offer free workshops. The National Players will hold an actor-preparation workshop with improvisation games from 12:15 p.m. to 1:15 p.m. Monday in Swimmer Hall of the Williams Building, where all of the week's activities will be held. Brestensky said the National Players would break up in small groups with actors, and those who want to take part in the improvisations games.

The workshops will enable the Lion Players to brush up on their iambic pentameter for the troupe's annual play, scheduled April 12. It won't be a laughing matter this year. They're doing "MacBeth," marking the first time the local troupe is tackling a Shakespearean tragedy rather than one of his comedies.

"They finally convinced me," said Bretensky.

In any event, there's something for everyone to enjoy at the festival this year. A number of exhibits will be on display in the campus library, including photographs of Shakespeare's Stratford taken by Bretensky, a model of The Globe, the London theater where many of his works were first staged, and what is billed as "unique and imaginative projects created by students from previous English 129 (Introduction to Shakespeare) classes at the Fayette campus."

All the programs are free, but there is limited seating for the National Players Monday evening performance of "As You Like It" and the Shakespeare-In-The Schools Friday afternoon performance of "A Comedy of Errors." Tickets for those shows must be reserved in advance, by calling 724-420-4121.

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