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Shakespeare In The Streets: "The New World" April 27-29



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Ten-year-old Paisley Regester and her mother, April Regester, rehearse a scene from “The New World” on the corner of Cherokee Street and California Avenue. photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)
April 25, 2012
When Rick Dildine talks about taking his show on the road, he means it literally.

Dildine, who moved here from Chicago in 2009 to head Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, was intrigued by the city's abundance of dead-end streets. And while dead ends rarely evoke opportunity, he soon came to believe that an obstructed intersection might make an ideal – if unusual – venue for a theatrical performance.

That vision will be realized Friday, when Shakespeare in the Streets presents "The New World" at Cherokee Street and California Avenue. It's playwright Nancy Bell's highly original take on Shakespeare's "The Tempest," adapted to eclectic Gravois Park.

The 17th-century tragicomedy, which opens as a violent storm pummels a small ship at sea, is a tale of magic, mayhem and machinations. But it's clear from the first scene of Bell's update, when a tornado strikes a riverboat on the Mississippi, that audiences are a long way from the Globe Theatre.

Although her script – a blend of the Bard, contemporary dialogue and her own pentameter verse – is rich with references to local landmarks, it transcends inside jokes and hometown name-dropping. Sharing director Tlaloc Rivas' goal to "reclaim a part of this divided city for art and for the community," she strove to incorporate the evolving multiculturalism of Cherokee Street.

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Actor Michael Amoroso and Equity actor Elana Kepner in rehearsal for “The New World.” photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)
Home to Germans in the 19th century, African-Americans after World War II and Latinos since the 1980s, the neighborhood was always solidly blue-collar. But over the past decade, it's been morphing into a haven for hipsters and must grapple with the risks and rewards of gentrification.

Dildine's creative team of Bell, Rivas and designer Justin Barisonek spent three months consulting with Cherokee Street residents and business owners, many of whom were later cast alongside professional actors. Among the novices is Minerva Lopez, proprietor of Gooolll Soccer Apparel and a prominent member of the Latino community.

"I see myself as a bridge between the groups here because I can understand all sides," she said. "Nancy approached our conflicts with a lot of sensitivity and respect, and I think she did a great job of putting them in perspective."

April Regester, a professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, moved last year with her family to adjacent Benton Park after they "absolutely fell in love with the vitality of this area." Eager to become involved in the community, she auditioned for "The New World" and won a part, as did her daughter, Paisley, who was introduced to Shakespeare when the festival's production of "Taming of the Shrew" came to her school.

"It's neat how they use stuff that's already here, like this skateboard ramp, instead of just having a regular set," said the 10-year-old. "Since the play started, I look at what's around me in a different way."

Her mother hopes audiences will feel the same way.

"The people who aren't from here can see what we're all about, and those who are from here can see what more is possible," said Regester.

The combination of perspectives from residents and out-of-town theatrical veterans in the lead roles has resulted in what Rivas called "extraordinary cross-cultural dialogue." He added, "I've been so blessed to work with these people."

So, will Shakespeare in the Streets become an annual tradition? Rivas hopes leaders from other neighborhoods will attend the show and be inspired. "Pericles" at Park and 18th? "Macbeth" at Maryland and Euclid?

Why not? After all, it was Shakespeare himself who said, "All the world's a stage."

"The New World" will be presented at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, April 27-28 and at 3 p.m. on Sunday, April 29, at the intersection of Cherokee Street and California Avenue. All performances are free. For more information, visit www.sfstl.com.

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