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Both Alike in Dignity: Students and Comedians Honor Shakespeare

Shakespeare fans have two very different programs to choose from at The Bard’s Town this Friday with back-to-back performances that show the reverence and irreverence Louisville has for the Bard.First up, a showcase of Walden Theatre students celebrating the end of the Summer Shakespeare Intensive program starts at 7:30 p.m. The 14 teens will perform scenes and monologues they prepared during the three weeks they’ve spent immersed in Shakespeare’s First Folio.It’s pretty intense work, even for Walden conservatory students who perform in their own annual Shakespeare Festival. This summer, they’re working on the dense histories like “Richard II,” along with audition monologues and sonnet performances.“We throw a lot at them. It’s sort of an all-immersion into the world of Shakespeare,” says Walden artistic associate Julane Havens, who runs the program along with actor Brian Hinds.The program is a community effort, with Havens and Hinds welcoming actors and directors like J. Barrett Cooper, artistic director of Savage Rose Classical Theatre, and Beth Burrell, a member of The Bard’s Town ensemble, to share their expertise with the students. Havens says the program gives the kids the tools and confidence to tackle any text and any role, no matter how small, and the showcase will reflect that philosophy.“Every student gets the opportunity to have a large role, a supporting role and smaller role,” says Havens. “If I come in to give the messenger lines, I’m going to do that with the same amount of energy I would if I were playing Hamlet.”That also means there’s no pressure to pull off a full production.“These kids, most of them do plays all year long. This is a chance for them to take big risks, to play characters they wouldn’t normally be cast in,” she says. “And some of these kids, they’re just up there to build some confidence.”The actors will also perform a monologue or sonnet. Havens says his sonnets are small, contained vessels for introducing students to Shakespeare’s language.“They’re like their own little one-act play. They’ve got a storyline that goes through them,” she says.The tone will change later that evening when the Young, Dumb and Full of Comedy Show present their (unrelated) comedy roast in Shakespeare’s honor.“I hope a lot of people go to (the showcase), and then they go have a few drinks and come join us,” says comedian Tyler Jackson, who performs with the troupe.At a roast, comedians pay tribute to a guest of honor by hurling inventive insults rather than praise. And the Bard knew insults. In “King Lear,” Kent starts a fight with Oswald by calling him “an eater of broken meats; a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stocking knave” and he keeps going.Local comedians will do their worst by Will, building on a new tradition they’ve created at The Bard’s Town, where they gather frequently to roast famous historic characters like Abraham Lincoln and Jesus.“Since none of us are that well known, it would be weird to do a roast of one of us,” says Jackson.Will Hardesty serves as roastmaster, bringing up a panel of stand-up comedians playing themselves or a character, all trying to out-do each other.“We all take turns ripping each other to shreds and insulting Shakespeare. At the end he has the chance to come up and give his rebuttal,” says Jackson.  Jackson will perform in character as Tony from “West Side Story.” He says part of the fun of the roast is seeing how different comedians tackle the same subject.“I know me and a few other who like to do the characters prefer to bring in a lot of references from the style or background of each person,” says Jackson. “For the Abraham Lincoln roast I completely dressed up like Thomas Jefferson with a powdered wig and tried to stay in character the whole time.”The Roast of Shakespeare starts at 10 p.m. A portion of the proceeds from the roast will benefit the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival.

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