BLOOMINGTON — The plays of William Shakespeare may seem intimidating and dense to some, but the plays were a hit with kids in fair Bloomington, where a troupe of actors laid their scene Saturday.
The Illinois Shakespeare Festival put on its production of “The Magical Mind of Billy Shakespeare,” a free show geared toward exposing younger children to the comedy and the language of Shakespeare’s plays. About two dozen small children and their parents turning out on a sunny morning outside the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts to see the show written by Kevin Rich, an acting professor at Illinois State University and the festival’s artistic director.
Shakespeare may be considered a “diamond and caviar” playwright nowadays, but in his day he wrote plays to appeal to the working crowd as well as the aristocrats, Rich said. Just as adults can appreciate the plays, young children can approach them without bias, Rich said.
“Kindergartners love it, because every word to them is new,” Rich said. “They aren’t afraid of words they don’t understand.”
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Rich’s script tells the story of a young Billy Shakespeare who uses his writing and directing savvy to help an enthusiastic but untested troupe of well-meaning actors perform famous scenes from “Romeo and Juliet,” “Richard III” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
The Illinois Shakespeare Festival has been putting on free, public shows during the past several summers to introduce the younger crowd to particular artists, said Dick Folse, managing director of the festival.
“It’s about coming out into the community and letting them see Shakespeare’s work in a friendly format,” Folse said.
Clad in 16th Century costumes, actors passed out props to the children and invited some into the scenes to help out. The iambic pentameter was no barrier to many kids in the audience picking up on the laugh lines and enjoying the occasional pratfall. Kelly Sealy, 35, of Bloomington, brought three of her children, all under age 8, to see the show, and they were enjoying themselves.
“We’re home-schooling, so I thought it was a good thing to see,” Sealy said. “Now I can read Shakespeare with them, and they’ll have a frame of reference.”