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Walden Theatre Students Get Bloody in 'Titus Andronicus'

Students at Walden Theatre’s conservatory for young actors don’t just graduate with an audition monologue and a headshot. They complete extensive Shakespearean training, culminating in the annual Young American Shakespeare Festival.The Bard gets a few exotic makeovers this year’s festival (May 10-20), including a circus-themed production of the romantic comedy “Cymbeline” and a retro, sci-fi version of “Titus Andronicus.”Walden Theatre is a comprehensive theater education program for children ages 8-18, as well as community outreach and summer drama camp programs.For this year’s production of “Titus Andronicus,” the rigors of Walden’s stage combat class also will be on full display. “All of our kids know a journeyman’s knowledge of fencing and broadswords,” says artistic director Charlie Sexton, who directs “Titus Andronicus.”The tragedy is infamous for its high body count—a queen’s sons are even baked into a pie—but Sexton says the play was simply Shakespeare’s satirical reaction to the violent revenge plays popular in the sixteenth century.“I think what he was trying to do is create a show that’s so extreme and ridiculous in its blood and gore that it would cause the genre to jump the shark, so he could wipe the slate clean and not have to keep doing it,” says Sexton.Sexton says his young actors naturally love the over-the-top violence of the famously bloody tragedy, which is one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays. But he also says the language is worth a second look.“I think you really see flashes of what his future brilliance is going to be,” says Sexton. “I would never claim that it’s on par with King Lear or Hamlet, but as a Bardologist, it’s interesting to me to see him developing. Some of these scenes are like, wow this is so crazy, and others are like wow, that was a beautiful monologue there.”The two Shakespeare plays run in repertory with Shakespeare contemporary Ben Jonson’s satire “Volpone” through May 20 at Walden’s Payne Street theater.