On Saturday, Juneau will kick off its first-ever Bard-a-thon -- a continuous live reading of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets, back to back. This eight-day, free event, hosted by the Juneau Public Libraries and Perseverance Theatre, combines elements of a poetry reading, theater workshop, neighborhood book club and all-night diner gathering (minus the food). At any moment, day or night, a reading of “Romeo and Juliet” or “Hamlet” or “As You Like It” will be going on in one of three locations in Juneau and Douglas, giving locals a week-long, ongoing opportunity to join in.
“At any point, any minute, any second, you can join in or just watch,” said Perseverance Theatre’s Tom Robenolt. The event was organized by the Juneau Public Library in conjunction with Perseverance, the Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre and the Friends of the Library
The first play, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” will be read at 6 p.m. Saturday at the downtown library, and the last one, “Hamlet,” will be read at 6 p.m. on the following Saturday, March 15. In between will be “Macbeth” at 11 p.m. Sunday at Perseverance Theatre, “Edward III” at 8 a.m. next Thursday, March 13, at the Douglas Library, and “Antony and Cleopatra” at 6 p.m. next Friday, March 14, at the downtown library, as well as nearly 30 more works.
Though it’s new to Juneau, the Bard-a-thon is a tradition in Fairbanks, where it’s been going on annually since 1999 through the Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre. Former artistic director and theater co-founder Bruce Rogers was inspired to try it after having traveled across the country on a Greyhound bus with the thick slab of Shakespeare’s complete works as his primary reading material. When he got back to Fairbanks, and told his friend Steve Mitchell about the experience, Mitchell said, “Well, I want to read the plays. Maybe everybody does,” Rogers recounted in a previous interview. The pair organized a reading at the Masonic Temple in Fairbanks and the first Bard-a-thon was born.
In recent years the event has expanded to include long-distance readers from other countries via speaker-phone. Robenolt said readers have called in from as far away as London and South Korea. The event has also widened it’s reach by being broadcast on the web.
Since 2009, Rogers has helped organize a Bard-a-thon in Lacrosse, Wisc. and Anchorage held their first one in 2013.
Robenolt, who has participated in several Bard-a-thons in Fairbanks, said one of the main rules of the event is that the play must be read – a dictum that can lead to some weird scenarios. Robenolt recalled showing up for a reading of “The Winter’s Tale” at 4 a.m. in Fairbanks, only to find he was the only one there.
“I read to it all to myself, for four hours,” he said with a chuckle. “The play is always read, no matter what. That’s the crazy thing.”
Usually, however, the plays attract anywhere from a handful of people to several dozen, he said, depending on the play and the time of day.
The Bard-a-thon highlights the fact that the plays are meant to be read aloud, while making the texts available to a wide audience – from young students getting their first taste of the language to seasoned theater fans eager to revisit their favorite scenes.
Each play is assigned a facilitator, who introduces the play and assigns parts based on how many readers show up.
The long-standing tradition of the Bard-a-thon in Fairbanks has also generated facilitators who have become experts in a certain area. Mark Anderson, a facilitator who favors the history plays, has gathered a following for giving listeners the historical background and context to help them understand the material.
“They are saturated with history and it’s really hard to follow them at times, but this guy has made the history plays a standout for Fairbanks,” Robenolt said.
Robenolt said for the facilitator, knowledge of the plays is helpful, but that readers need not have any experience.
Ultimately, the event is as simple as sitting down to read.
“Basically it’s about as free and open as you can get for an event,” he said.
To watch a video of Bruce Rogers talking about the Bard-a-thon, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=bobAHToPpfg&feature=youtu.be
For a look at the schedule of Juneau readings, visit http://www.juneau.org/library/pdfs/20140214121801.pdf. Contact Beth Weigel at the Juneau library, 586-5249, to sign up for a slot.