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Slings & (Bloody) Arrows 

William Shakespeare: Zombie killer

I'm sure if Shakespeare lived in modern times, he would have fully embraced the zombie genre with both doublet-ensconced arms. Imagine the drama that would have erupted in A Midsummer Night's Dream if Bottom and Puck had to team up to take out some undead a-holes, or if Macbeth had to worry about zombies AND Birnam Wood coming to Dunsinane. Will could have used zombies as the ultimate metaphor for the ruling class and their consumption of the poor and working class (not that he needed much help with metaphor).

But William Shakespeare's Land of the Dead: A True and Accurate Account of the 1599 Zombie Plague isn't just about mashing zombies into Shakespeare's time for some cheap and easy laughs. The script by John Heimbuch takes real-life characters like Francis Bacon, Richard Burbage, Queen Elizabeth, and William Shakespeare himself and places them in an historical context where zombies might actually make a bit of sense.

The show takes place in the Globe Playhouse in the summer of 1599. Shakespeare has just opened Henry V and as patron and actors alike wrap up, a plague-ridden madman bites the company's costumer, setting about a chain of events that sees these characters becoming action heroes in their own right. The script is witty and filled with self-referential humor to not only Shakespeare's work, but to living a life in the theater as well.

The show is part of CTC's All Aspects Teen Theatre program, with mastermind Brad Thompson teaching the students as well as directing the production. When asked why he chose Land of the Dead, Thompson answered with his typically wry wit.

"With the recent popularity growth of the zombie genre, I thought it would be a great way to incorporate the physical element of acting, use an intelligent script, and allow the kids to get into make-up design," he explains. "Most of the kids are getting the history lesson and the literary lesson—the references to plays yet unwritten, characters that are historically based. It has it all: good story, good characters, good writing, and zombies. Really, that's all you need."

The program itself is more than a year old, with the first workshop containing only two students. This past summer they held a four-week workshop for 17 kids and Land of the Dead has a cast of more than 20. Ages range from 12 to 17 and no one is priced out of participating.

"One of the main goals of All Aspects is to keep the program affordable," Thompson says. "For all of our workshops and productions, I really want to focus on the teaching and learning, as opposed to raising revenue."

Thompson manages to make directing a play while simultaneously teaching more than a dozen kids look like second nature. While there is an aspect of herding cats involved, that comes with dealing with actors of any age.

"The teacher in me always has to find a way to get across to them, and if plans A through C don't work, Plan D has to kick in," he explains. "The hope is the more I can work with them, the more they will make the discoveries on their own and know how to bring those 'actor skills' to the next scene, the next rehearsal, and the next project. Set them up to know what they are doing, however I can get it across to them."

It's all part of the worthy cause of training our next generation of actors in patience, character, and subtext. Thompson isn't phoning it in with these kids and isn't just teaching them skills that can only be used in a theater. Watching him with these kids gives hope for the next generation, knowing that they are in good, if undead, hands.

William Shakespeare's Land of the Dead

7:30 pm, Thursday-Sunday, Oct. 29-31

Cascades Theatrical Company, 148 NW Greenwood Ave.


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