Monday Night: Shakespeare readings to be shared at Te Cafe

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What satisfaction canst thou have tonight?

It's "Bring Your Own Bard: Shakespeare's Favorites," an assortment of soliloquies, scenes and sonnets read and recited at Te Cafe on Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill.

The evening, presented by Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Parks, is informal and fun, with audience members and participants mixing it up.

"This is our fourth season," said organizer Alan Irvine, 51, of Squirrel Hill. "Shakespeare in the Park, of course, is our main production, when we present a full-sized play in September. But the other half of the year -- from January to June -- you really don't want to be outside in the park listening to Shakespeare. So we come indoors.

"This is a reading series for anyone. Anyone can come and read. Some people, all they want to do is listen. And some Shakespeare aficionados bring their plays and read along with the scenes."

The presenters, he said, include "kids who like doing drama, professional actors, and people who are pushed up on stage by their friends."

Mr. Irvine, who studied sociology at Centenary College in Louisiana and at the University of Pittsburgh, is a professional storyteller.

"I started when I was in college working at summer camps," he said. "You know, how you tell stories in the cabins after lights-out and around the bonfires. Now it's a hobby, sometimes full-time, sometimes part-time. I free-lance at schools, libraries, museums, festivals. I've always done multiple things. Even when I was teaching full-time, I was doing the story-telling."

Story-telling, he said, is our oldest art form, yet it's still new.

"The big thing is that story-telling is interactive," he said. "The listener is actually part of the conversation. I'm gauging your reaction, I'm adjusting the story. It's going to come out different every time. Sometimes the difference is subtle, and sometimes it might go off in totally new directions.

"The story is unfolding in the head of the listener, in your imagination. When you're watching TV, that show is going to be the same whether you're watching it in the living room or the kitchen, alone or with other people. The story is not going to change. It's all sort of laid out for you.

"But when I tell you a story, most of that story is in your head. I'm giving you key information, the foreground, but you're filling in the whole world. The storyteller is like a caricature artist as opposed to a portrait artist. We give you just enough lines for you to fill in the detail."

Even telling stories as famous and familiar as those of Shakespeare can be new and different, he said.

"There's a key distinction between storytelling and acting," he said. "I tell Shakespeare stories, but they're my adaptation of the stories. It's me condensing the plots into my own language and own words, playing and adapting and changing. There's very little memorized and presented exactly as written.

"When an actor does it, it has to be word-for-word so the other actors can get their cues and their words right."

For tonight's recitations, there are no props or costumes in play.

"It's really a low-key introduction to theater," said Mr. Irvine, though there was that time he and his daughter presented a carefully choreographed fighting scene with wooden swords. (Some of those attending were kind enough to play the parts of the dead bodies on the floor.)

The event begins around 7:15 p.m. at Te Cafe, 2000 Murray Ave., and should be wrapped up before 9. You can expect a couple of dozen people, Mr. Irvine said, and if you don't know what you'd like to read, he has some suggested scenes ready to go.

"And, in the time-honored tradition of Shakespearean performances, we'll pass the hat at the end of the evening," Mr. Irvine said. Proceeds will go toward this fall's presentation of "Romeo and Juliet."

You can contact BYOB@pittsburghshakespeare.com, 412-521-6406, or visit Facebook at Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Parks.

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If you have a suggestion for something to do some evening, let us know about it and we'll see if we can get some of our friends to join you. Contact Dan Majors at dmajors@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1456.


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