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Traveling Thespians Perform Shakespeare around the U.S.

There are some parts of the United States where a live performance of a William Shakespeare's play is a rare event. To help bring the works of the still-popular 16th-century British playwright to some non-traditional audiences, the National Endowment for the Arts supports a program called "Shakespeare in American Communities." The program is introducing the Bard's legendary craft to many smaller towns and cities - and some unlikely venues - too. The Alabama Shakespeare Festival, for instance, is taking its show on the road to 13 U-S military bases this year. We caught up with the troupe during its recent engagement at the Marine Base in Quantico, Virginia.

U.S. Marine Base Commander James Lowe says listening to the words of Shakespeare come alive in the base's aging auditorium is an unexpected -- but welcome -- experience:

"When you think of Shakespeare, the last term that would come to your mind is Marines. You would be amazed at the diversity of our young men and women today and the education level of those men and women. This is the right thing to do. One month, it might be a rock and roll band. This month, it's Shakespeare."

While her fellow actors were rehearsing a fight scene from Shakespeare's brooding tragedy, Macbeth, Kathleen McCall, who plays Lady Macbeth, noted that the play's military themes resonate strongly with the Quantico base community:

"When they first said we're going to do this, I thought, 'Oh goodness, Macbeth, has someone read this play?' It's about a general who kills a king and usurps power. I thought, goodness, for the military. Actually, we've found them incredibly receptive. It's their story. It's the story of a military family. When I say lines like, 'Fi, fi, my Lord, a soldier and afeard.' That really rings palpably for them."

The play Macbeth takes place in ancient Scotland and depicts the timeless struggle between good and evil. Mischievous witches tempt Macbeth with ultimate power, while Lady Macbeth prods him to commit murder. But Macbeth finds that power achieved with the use of violence can only be maintained with more violence. It's a timeless lesson, according to actor Remi Sandri, who plays Lord Macbeth:

"Here's a man who made a bad decision. Instead of stopping and saying, 'I made a bad decision and need to back up and fix this,' he goes on and on with the bad decision. If you want to [draw parallels], you could say, look at President Bush and his initial decision [to enter Iraq] was wrong or needs to be adjusted. The guy won't apologize; he won't say he made a mistake. So he keeps going in that direction. That's how you'd look at it from the left [wing view]. From the right [wing], you could say, 'Here's a tyrant that has to be deposed. He has to be; he's killing the country.' Politically, no matter what side of the spectrum you fall [under], you can look at it from both avenues."

Mr. Sandri says that regardless of one's views on the Iraq war, bringing Shakespeare to the Quantico Marines and their families is a unique way to support America's men and women in uniform.

"I feel it's great to be able to give something back to the soldiers because they're doing so much hard work around the world now. Personally, I couldn't disagree with our president more on many of his policies. I'm frustrated by people [who say], 'You don't support our troops?' Of course I support the troops. This is a way for someone liberal at heart to give something back to our armed forces."

Not everyone sees the play as a political experience. Kathleen McCall says some of the high school students in the audience tell her it's a revelation for them to see, not just Shakespeare, but any play performed on stage:

"They have that sense of wonder and excitement that an audience that goes to the theater often or quite frequently doesn't have."

"They read it in school, but it doesn't have the same amount of power and impact that actually seeing it [on stage] does. Kids say to me, 'I fell asleep. I couldn't read it. It's so hard to get through it; I can't understand the language.' Then they see it and say, 'It makes perfect sense!'"

Sharon Adinolfi, who teaches English at the Quantico base high school, says her students are well-prepared to see the drama.

"They've been incredibly excited about the fact that they could walk down the hill from their houses and come to this performance. We have spent a lot of time studying the works of Shakespeare and getting them in a mindset so they can recognize the types of characters and situations."

After their engagement at Quantico, it was back on the road for the Alabama Shakespeare Festival troupe - a routine that Kathleen McCall says is grueling:

"Everybody thinks that what we do is such a glamorous life. In reality, it's very hard work. We'll get on a bus tomorrow morning and travel 400 miles up to Michigan. We've got a good eight to nine hour day on a bus. [For] the crew, at every theater there's a different configuration. They have to figure it all out: how to put the lights up here, where to put this … And after the show tonight, they'll break it down and that takes two to three hours, and get it back on the truck."

But the Shakespearean actor says what makes the touring bearable are the appreciative audiences people like Quantico High School honors student, Justine Pruss:

"Ever since I read Shakespeare, it's been one of my favorite plays. It was the first I was introduced to. I want to be a Shakespearean actor so much, just to do that play and be Lady Macbeth. It would be absolutely so much fun. Those are the only words I can put it into -- such a joy!"