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Isn't this how Benji got started? (No? Well, he should have.) 

As mentioned in several columns past, the Illinois Shakespeare Festival is going to the dogs this summer.

So let us take paws.

Maybe your paws, as it turns out.

Originally, as we noted, the casting call for a four-legged co-star in the ISF's production of "Shakespeare in Love" was planned to be a closed one. 

For practicality's sake, the search was going to be conducted through backstage channels, i.e., local shelters and vets, all the better to ensure that candidates have the necessary chops to perform before an audience on stage.

That plan has changed, all you potential stage mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers will be happy to know.

The auditions, says ISF manager William Prenevost, are now being opened up to the public ... specifically, from 10 a.m. to noon April 21, in Illinois State University's Center for the Performing Arts Theater.

In "Shakespeare in Love," based on the 1998 movie scripted by Tom Stoppard, "you may recall that Will needs a new comedy, and that it wouldn’t hurt if there was 'a bit with a dog' in it," says Prenevost.

Anything to please the groundlings, in other words.

What the ISF needs, as a result, is "a well-trained-dog of any medium- to small-sized breed," or approximately 12 to 40 pounds."

The wannabe ISF star will have to be available for all 10 performances, which will be July 19 through Aug. 11.

Said star will also be on call for several rehearsals, with flexible dates between June 5 through July 18, still TBA.

Naturally, those trying out should be at ease around crowds of groundlings (i.e., people and children).

"We are especially interested in dogs that can perform tricks," adds Prenevost.

"Shakespeare in Love" is the lone festival offering being staged inside, not outside ... meaning the CPA Theater on the ISU campus.

To schedule an audition, which are first come, first served, owners can sign up for a 10-minute slot by sending an email to isfcasting2017@gmail.com

Include contact info, as well as name, breed and full-body photo.

Isn't this how Asta and Benji got started?

Just sayin'.

Bucket-list Bard: In other Shakespeare Fest news, weekend's Sunday Travel section of The Chicago Tribune recognized the ISF as one of 20 "must-see" cultural attractions in Illinois.

It was of the paper's bicentennial series, name-checking "200 things every Land of Lincolnite should do, see, eat or drink in honor of two centuries of statehood this year."

With an emphasis on culture outside of the 773 and 312 area codes, the festival has been highlighted as the premiere theatrical attraction.

A little slice o' Bard: Tradition has it that Will S. died on the same day he was born, a la author Mark Twain, who was born with the arrival of Halley's Comet in 1835 and died with its return on April 21, 1910.

The date of the Bard's death is irrefutable. But, say scholars, the precise date of birth is less concrete.

His church baptism records say April 26, with scholars arriving at April 23 as the likely birth date, circa 1564, which, of course, matches his April 23, 1616 death date. 

Whatever: He died way too young (52) and there's going to be a free quad party, outside the Center for the Performing Arts, at noon April 23, complete with cake, sonnets, monologues and giveaways of ISF T-shirts and merchandise from last season.

Hix nix Marx pix?: The old rule of thumb back in the Marx Brothers' cinema heyday, which lasted from around 1928 to 1946, was that the team's comedies were hits in urban markets and duds in flyover country.

We bring this up, per the arrival Saturday night of Frank Ferrante and his "An Evening with Groucho" to the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts (see interview above). 

Though a Marx Brothers comedy was a sure bet at campus revivals back in their 1960s-1970s heyday as cult icons, they didn't ever seem to eke much more than a few days at Twin Cities cinemas in their original 1930s-1940s runs.

A check through Pantagraph archives reveals two things: 1.) That the Brothers' home base here was Bloomington's long-gone Irvin Theater, with an occasional detour to the Normal Theater; and 2.) that rarely did one of their movies last a full week on B-N screens.

"Animal Crackers" played the Irvin Oct. 5-8, 1930; "Monkey Business" opened a three night stand there on Halloween night 1931; "Duck Soup," though released in 1933, didn't show up at the Irvin until Jan. 16, 1934, where it ran less than a week; and "Room Service" played a whopping two days at the Normal on Nov. 30-Dec. 1, 1938.

Hello, they must be going, indeed.  

Dan Craft is Pantagraph entertainment editor. He can be reached at 309-829-9000, Ext. 259 or via email at dcraft@pantagraph.com.

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