By Alan Burke
---- — IPSWICH — What do you do for the birthday boy when he’s already the most acclaimed writer in human history and, besides, he won’t be here for the party?
Saturday, April 26, is the 450th birthday of William Shakespeare. To mark the occasion, the ninjas of the Actors Company of Ipswich will be offering bits of the bard all over town.
That means Helena and Hermia of “Midsummer Night’s Dream” will be battling instead of dreaming outside of Zumi’s Coffee Shop. You can join cast members saying “Good night, sweet prince,” to Hamlet (and the several unlucky Danes who “shuffled off this mortal coil” along with him) on the Riverwalk. Meanwhile, Romeo will pitch woo to Juliet high above in the window of the First Ipswich Bank, whose “stony walls” might keep your money in, but “cannot hold love out.”
The 450th birthday for the great dramatist is, of course, a milestone and will be observed all over the North Shore, if not the world. But the ninjas have gotten the jump on everyone. With the help of local businesses, they’ve been marking the first Saturday after Shakespeare’s birthday with downtown performances for three years. This year’s show begins at noon at the Visitor Center and won’t last longer than 3 p.m.
“It’s guerrilla theater,” explains J.T. Turner, the professional actor who runs the Actors Company. Love of Shakespeare figured in establishing this event. “We do small scenes from quite a few of Shakespeare’s plays.” The audience can follow from venue to venue to see the performances — it’s not a difficult walk, Turner says.
Shakespeare can be a challenge, given the occasional archaic expression and the use of verse. But he’s confident his performers can make themselves clear, notwithstanding the racket of downtown traffic.
“If the actor knows what he’s saying, then the audience will understand,” Turner says. “The words are important, but it’s as much about feeling and emotion.” For that matter, he says, passers-by have been known to stop their cars, get out and join the procession for a while, listening to the greatest speeches in the English language.
Cynthia August, a commercial photographer, will play a role opposite Amy Sheridan as Hermia and Helena. Their argument is edited to get the insults in as quickly as possible. Hermia suspects Helena is making sly and disparaging references to a difference in height between them. “They’re regular girls having a regular argument,” August says.
“O, when she’s angry, she is keen and shrewd!” a wary Helena declares. “She was a vixen when she went to school; And though she be but little, she is fierce.”
“‘Little’ again!” Hermia complains, “nothing but ‘low’ and ‘little!’ ... How low am I, thou painted maypole? speak; How low am I? I am not yet so low But that my nails can reach unto thine eyes.”
“The scene is so much fun,” says August. “Amy and I have a wisecracking relationship to begin with. It comes pretty easy to us.”
From the start, Turner has worked to involve downtown businesses in the fun. At Christopher’s Table, for example, he’s arranged for the presentation of various Shakespearean comments involving food. That’s fine with owner Christopher DeStefano.
“This has been great,” he says. “We try to support J.T. and the arts as much as we can.”
Not surprisingly, DeStefano’s previous employment included a stint as director of performing arts at Suffolk University. He sees the poetry in acting as well as food. “Now I make cupcakes,” he laughs.
For his part, Turner has acted at places like North Shore Music Theatre, taken parts in movies like “American Hustle” and TV shows like “The Brotherhood.” He’s taught and worked on staging fight scenes for live theater.
It’s J.T.’s son James who will take on the signature role in drama — Hamlet.
“I’ve been acting since I was 31/2-4 years old,” he says. This performance, however, will be the final scene, stressing swordplay rather than words and leaving more corpses than your average Clint Eastwood movie.
It’s all in good fun and James expects a positive reaction to Saturday’s events.
“Ipswich has a good gathering of people who have a pretty heavy interest in the arts. ... The arts, especially around here, have been really good.”
Staff writer Alan Burke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Events will take place Saturday, April 26, in downtown Ipswich.
Noon: Ipswich Visitors Center, 36 S. Main St. (Ninja Shakespeare Opening Scene)
12:20: Ipswich Visitors Center, 36 S. Main St. (Will’s Women)
12:30: The Footbridge (Oberon and Titania)
12:45: EBSCO Mural (Swordplay and Hamlet)
1 p.m.: Gifts 4 Soul, 4 Market St. (Sonnets)
1:15: First Ipswich Bank, 31 Market St. (Romeo and Juliet)
1:30: Behind First Ipswich Bank, 31 Market St. (Pyramus and Thisby)
1:45: Christopher’s Table, Depot Square (Shakespeare on Food)
2 p.m.: Zumi’s Espresso, 40 Market St. (Shakespearean Cat Fight)
2:15: 5 Corners Deli, 0 Central St. (Seven Ages of Man)
2:30: The Green at First Church of Ipswich, Meetinghouse Green (Ninja Shakespeare Closing Scene)
7 p.m.: J.T. Turner will perform his one-man show, “Shakespeare’s Ghost,” at 12 Meetinghouse Green. Tickets are $12, $2 off when guests bring a copy of their Ninja Shakespeare program.