Shakespeare From the Heart

Members of the "Shakespeare From the Heart" practice their improvisation as they get set to host the show, "Whose Shakespeare Is It Anyway" which is in the style of the TV show "Whose Line Is It Anyway" at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne. Journal Gazette video by Chad Ryan.

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If you go
What: “Whose Shakespeare Is It, Anyway?”
When: 7 p.m. today and Saturday; other showtimes are 7 p.m. March 7 and 8
Where: Emmanuel Lutheran Church, 917 W. Jefferson Blvd.
Admission: A freewill offering will be accepted to help benefit the nonprofit Shakespeare from the Heart and its chosen charity, Matthew 25.
For more information: www.phoenixprodinc.com
Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
Peter Meyer, left, and Dustin Reid act out a skit in which Romeo and Juliet text each other in preparation for “Whose Shakespeare Is It, Anyway?”

Improv lovers take Bard and run with it

To understand Shakespeare from the Heart’s new improvisational comedy show, imagine if Scooby-Doo’s cartoon companion, Shaggy, starred in “Hamlet” or if Egyptian Queen Cleopatra had decided to go on the “The Dating Game” rather than make the fatal decision to stay home with her poisonous snake collection.

Having a hard time setting the scene?

The cast of “Whose Shakespeare Is It, Anyway?” take on the challenge in their new show today.

Participating members Peter Meyer, Dustin Reid, Nol Beckley and Chad Burris of the nonprofit organization will fuse the ambitious acting of a Shakespearean play with the spontaneity of improvisation inspired by the TV show “Whose Line Is It, Anyway?”

Half the show’s proceeds will support the organization’s chosen charity, Matthew 25 Health and Dental Clinic.

The troupe will use the audience for suggestions and have them join the cast on stage to participate as well.

“In general, when it comes to improv, you have to have a quick mind, and it does take a lot of practice,” says Meyer, who also directs the show.

“We have been rehearsing several of the games already and seeing how the surprise of the moment works. We’ve all become good friends and know each other, so it’s easier to read off one another.”

Founded in 1999, Shakespeare from the Heart uses the historical work of English poet William Shakespeare as a means of community outreach that benefits a local charity.

The organization began with annual summer performances of Shakespeare’s plays. In 2011, it added a winter performance to raise more money.

Unlike the summer show, the winter performance is shorter and engages an audience that may not attend the full-length summer shows.

“Comedy brings it down to a manageable level,” Meyer says. “Our challenge in every production is the length – we always have to edit. Our advantage with this show is that I’m basically presenting two 45-minute acts with an intermission.”

Taking a break from a winter performance in 2013, the organization returns this year with an original production. Meyer says the group is considering a possible dinner theater concept for next year.

“We had so much fun using improv, and we thought it would be intriguing if we could come up with our own show,” he says. “The challenge with having some familiarity with the characters and Shakespeare is we have to make sure that we’re not so obscure that our audience doesn’t know what we’re talking about.”

The show will use familiar characters and plays such as “Hamlet,” “Romeo and Juliet” and “Macbeth.” However, the four-man cast will also use some of Shakespeare’s more humorous, minor characters, including Dogberry from “Much Ado about Nothing.”

Meyer says he also included Shakespeare’s lesser-known work “Titus Andronicus” in the show; the play is about a fictional Roman general, and it’s notoriously violent and gory. In other words, it’s a great setup for the cast to perform a comedic cooking show.

“We make sure we explain things before or use the comedy situation to explain what’s going on,” Meyer says. “Obviously, comedy is something that helps the medicine go down, but I also see us as wanting to use this as a way of reaching out to the community in other ways.”

kcarr@jg.net

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