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Shakespeare's sonnets coming to Ditmas Park porches

Brave New World Repertory Theatre will present the Bard's sonnets about love and a Haitian dance celebrating rebirth in Brooklyn on April 28.

"Shakespeare on Stratford" is bringing the Bard's sonnets

"Shakespeare on Stratford" is bringing the Bard's sonnets to Brooklyn's Ditmas Park on April 28. The actors, pictured, will perform them on the porches of homes along Stratford Road.  Photo Credit: Jody Christopherson

Ditmas Park porches will serve as a stage for the Bard's sonnets this month when the "Shakespeare on Stratford" production comes to Stratford Road.

The free performance, produced by the Brave New World Repertory Theatre, will see actors dramatizing sonnets from the porches of 18 homes on April 28, allowing passerbys to catch "snippets of other poems in the wind," said Claire Beckman, the theater's producing artistic director. 

"Everybody will be looking into the eyes of the performers," she added.

After an hour, the actors and music director Nancy Shankman will gather in the middle of Stratford Road and lead a series of madrigals, or songs from the Renaissance for several voices, like "Now is the Month of Maying." Audience members will be given lyrics on a program rolled-up like a scroll.

"So long as men can breathe or eyes can see/So long lives this and this gives life to thee." — Sonnet 18, William Shakespeare

As the singing wraps up, the group will part to either side of the street for a performance that will begin as a courtly dance and transform into Afro-Haitian steps choreographed by Sheila Anozier, who is Haitian-American.

"That is the little surprise at the end of this," Beckman, who lives in Ditmas Park, said. "We have two very distinct communities — the Victorian Flatbush community that has become a real hipster community and old families — and on the other side of Flatbush it's a very large Haitian population. I feel like there isn't much cross-pollination going on, and I would like to invite them to come over here."

But how do you perform Shakespeare on 18 porches?

Beckman worked with homeowners to obtain permission and was able to get the city to close Stratford Road to traffic. 

Several merchants on Cortelyou Road are sponsoring the event, too, enabling the actors to earn a stipend.

City Councilman Mathieu Eugene said he commends Beckman for her dedication to the community and creative arts.

"This wonderful organization continues to make a profound impact in Brooklyn by providing residents with interactive outdoor performances that stimulate the imagination," he said in a statement.

The actors and Beckman have been rehearsing in Beckman's backyard, on her porch and at a community center.

"I have already been enjoying it for weeks and it has made me feel warm and fuzzy inside," she said. "They are such sweet poems and very simple, really. They remind me of the first time poetry stopped being a school assignment and became a window into my soul. We are putting each one on a porch so you get to visit these different little windows."

"Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May/And summer’s lease hath all too short a date." — Sonnet 18, William Shakespeare

Since moving to Ditmas Park near Stratford Road, Beckman has wanted to do something Shakespeare-related for the community and now seems to be the time when it is needed the most, she said.

"Not only is it spring, but it's been such a miserable couple of years," she said. "I feel like we just need some hope and faith."

While his tragedies, such as "Romeo & Juliet" and "King Lear," are often performed, the Bard's sonnets are less familiar to audiences, she said.

"A lot of people are intimidated by Shakespeare, but there’s so much in Shakespeare that is romantic and fun and silly and beautiful and universal," she said. "That’s the other reason for the Haitian dance. All the world is a stage … Shakespeare had a very expansive understanding of the world."

Beckman believes "Shakespeare on Stratford" will be a good experience for the whole family.

"It's like a block party, except you have space to walk and play and enjoy poetry, music and dance," she said. "I feel like kids will be surprised by it and parents will be surprised by what their kids get out of it. It's like trick or treating — they can pick up a little bit of this poem, that poem or get a flower [from the performers]. There are no rules."

If you go: The performance is on April 28, from 2 to 4 p.m. on Stratford Road between Cortelyou Road and Slocum Place. The rain date is May 5.

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