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January 24, 2012 > Toil and trouble at Fremont Library

Toil and trouble at Fremont Library

By Julie Grabowski

Ambition, witchcraft, and murder. Tragedy casts its dark shadow over Fremont Main Library as San Francisco Shakespeare Festival's Shakespeare on Tour presents "Macbeth."

Written around 1606, "Macbeth" tells of the gradual ruin of a man who succumbs to the evil influences around him and within in his desire to obtain the Scottish throne. His misguided ambition and deteriorating morals lead to murderous deeds, spiraling into a joyless and loveless existence.

Five actors will play 19 characters in a performance complete with costumes, set, props, and recorded music. Though slimmed down to a 55-minute version of the original, the play retains major plot points and well-known speeches, as well as the original poetic language of Shakespeare. Perhaps this lament from Macbeth is familiar:

"To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing."

The San Francisco Shakespeare Festival began in 1983 with a Free Shakespeare in the Park performance of "The Tempest" in Golden Gate Park. Their mission: "to make the words and themes of Shakespeare accessible to everyone, regardless of age, ethnicity, financial status, or level of education."

Originally developed as a curriculum enrichment program for schools, Shakespeare on Tour hit the road in 1996 with "Macbeth," delivering abridged versions of the Bard's classic plays all across the state. The tour starts in October and runs through mid-December, picking up again mid-January and performing through March or early April. Approximately 200 performances are given each season, and past productions have included "Othello," "The Taming of the Shrew," "Julius Caesar," "The Two Gentlemen of Verona," "The Comedy of Errors," "Twelfth Night," "Romeo and Juliet," "Hamlet," and most recently "The Tempest."

Editing down multiple acts into a digestible and understandable 55-minute story is an interesting and challenging task. According to San Francisco Shakespeare Festival's Marketing Director John Western, the process involves going through the play and pulling out critical plot components and key characters while cutting extraneous material. He calls the process a "distillation of plot structure." This job falls to "Macbeth" Director Rebecca Ennals, who has been working with Shakespeare on Tour since 2004. With a background as an educator, Western says Ennals knows how to whittle down the script for casual audiences, making it accessible and intelligible.

Plays selected for the tour are typically part of the school's core curriculum, and must be workable with five actors. Organizers also try to deliver an equal share of the comedic and tragic masterpieces.

While 95 percent of shows take place in schools, Shakespeare on Tour has branched out into community centers and libraries due to community requests, making them more visible and accessible to the general public. This is the first time that Fremont Main Library has hosted Shakespeare on Tour. "It was a good tie-in with the book and something we hadn't had before," says Supervising Children's Librarian Karen Pacheco, adding that they like to expose patrons to new experiences.

For those who think kids might be too young for Shakespeare, Western says the movement and expressions of the actors will move the storyline along and keep kids engaged, whether or not they pick up all the words or the meaning. Pacheco agrees. "It's still an experience seeing live theatre even if they don't understand Shakespeare's message. They will still get something out of it." However, scenes depicting witchcraft and murder may frighten very young children. The performance is recommended for ages seven and up, with adults welcome as well.

The program is sponsored by the Alameda County Library and was made possible by a mini-grant from the Alameda County Library Foundation.

The event is free but due to limited seating, attendees do need tickets which will be handed out at the Children's Information Desk beginning at 1:45 p.m. on the day of the performance. A Q&A session with the actors follows the show at 3 p.m.

In addition to their free park performances in summer and Shakespeare on Tour, San Francisco Shakespeare Festival offers Midnight Shakespeare, a 10-week program that pairs youth of under-served neighborhoods with professional theater instructors for a unique and beneficial learning opportunity, and two-week Shakespeare Camps throughout the Bay Area (including Fremont) where kids 7-13 can study Shakespeare in a fun and supportive atmosphere and take part in a performance.

To learn more about the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival and its programs, call (415) 558-0888 or visit online at

Saturday, January 28
2 p.m.
Fukaya Meeting Room
Fremont Main Library
2400 Stevenson Blvd., Fremont
(510) 745-1421

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