NEA Arts Magazine

NEA Brings Shakespeare to the Military

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The witches (Jennifer Hunt, Suzanne Curtis, and Sonja Lanzener) surround Macbeth (Remi Sandri)

The witches (Jennifer Hunt, Suzanne Curtis, and Sonja Lanzener) surround Macbeth (Remi Sandri). Photo: Phil Scarsbrook

On September 10th, amid great excitement and anticipation, the curtain rose in a converted movie theater at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama. In front of a capacity crowd of troops, the Alabama Shakespeare Festival began its riveting production of “the Scottish play” (as it’s called by superstitious actors). Outside, the theater sign announced, “No movies—Macbeth.”

It was here that the National Endowment for the Arts launched its Shakespeare in American Communities Military Base Tour. With $1 million from the Department of Defense, the Arts Endowment worked with all four military branches to serve military personnel and their families with free performances and educational activities. After Maxwell Air Force Base, the tour continued at 17 more bases, finishing at Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo, New Mexico, on October 21st. The tour was managed by Arts Midwest, based in Minneapolis. Additional support for Shakespeare in American Communities has been provided by The Sallie Mae Fund.

Young woman thrusting imaginary sword with instructor

At a theater class, actors from Macbeth discuss "stage fighting" with children at the base. Photo: Leslie Liberato

NEA Chairman Dana Gioia said, “As our country now has the best-educated, best-trained military in our nation’s history, the Arts Endowment has made a conscious effort to extend programs of artistic excellence, including Shakespeare in American Communities, to the men, women, and their families in our nation’s Armed Forces. We have enjoyed bringing the greatest playwright in the English language to a great audience.”

The 13 bases that comprised the Alabama Shakespeare Festival tour included three Army, three Navy, two Marine, and five Air Force bases in 11 states from North Carolina to New Mexico. They presented more than 16 performances of Macbeth, and many more educational and outreach activities. In the spirit of theater tours of the past, the venues on each of the bases ranged from theaters to gymnasiums to, in one case, an airplane hanger. The Arts Endowment also provided multimedia resource kits for teachers and librarians on all the bases. The kits featured a recitation contest guide, timeline poster, audio CD, videos, and other materials.

Alabama Shakespeare Festival’s Producing Director Kent Thompson explained why Macbeth has thrilled audiences for so long. He said, “We watch two of the best and brightest (Lord and Lady Macbeth) decide to seize power through murder and deception. In doing so, they unleash a furious evil into their world. Macbeth is also a fascinating study in the self-creation of a tyrant.”

Shakespeare in American Communities is the largest tour of Shakespeare in American history. Since September 2003, the Arts Endowment has engaged 29 professional theater companies to bring new Shakespeare productions and special in-school programs to more than 200 communities across all 50 states.

Shakespeare in American Communities Military Base Tour with Alabama Shakespeare Festival:

September

10-11: Maxwell Air Force Base, Montgomery, AL
15: Kings Bay Submarine Base, Kings Bay, GA
17-18: Charleston Naval Weapons Station, Charleston, SC
21-22: Camp Lejeune Marine Base, Jacksonville, NC
24: Quantico Marine Base, Quantico, VA
28: Selfridge Air National Guard Base/TACOM Army Base, Mt. Clemens, MI

October

1: Naval Support Activity Mid-South, Millington, TN
3: Scott Air Force Base, O’Fallon, IL
6: Fort Riley Army Base, Manhattan, KS
9: Fort Leavenworth Army Base, Fort Leavenworth, KS
15: Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado Springs, CO
18: Cannon Air Force Base, Clovis, NM
20-21: Holloman Air Force Base, Alamogordo, NM

Other Shakespeare in American Communities Military Base Tour engagements:

March 6, 2004: Fort Richardson, Anchorage, AK (Aquila Theatre Company)
June 23, 2004: Edwards Air Force Base, Lancaster, CA (The Acting Company)
October 14, 2004: Pearl Harbor Naval Station, Pearl Harbor, HI (Artists Repertory Theater),
Hickman Air Force Base, HI (Artists Repertory Theater)
October 16, 2004: Schofield Barracks, HI (Artists Repertory Theater)