By Eric J. Grimm and JK Clarke
On Tuesday, April 22, something strange and marvelous happened at Amity Hall on 3rd St. New York. Shakespeare Exchange threw a 450th birthday party for William Shakespeare at the West Village beer bar complete with sonnets, soliloquies, trivia, booze, and birthday cake. It’s one of many events focused on the Bard’s milestone birthday, but none are sure to be as warm and inviting as this one.
The event also acted as promotion for NYSX’s ongoing short film series, The Sonnet Project, which features great New York City-based actors performing Shakespeare’s sonnets at various locations in the five boroughs. The project received initial funding in a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2012. When completed, the video series will serve as a walking tour of New York City. 62 of the 154 sonnets have been released so far and can be watched on The Sonnet Project’s website or an app for iPhone and Android users.
The birthday celebration featured big screen presentations of sonnets performed by Vince Gatton, Joe Vincent, Len Cariou, and Austin Pendleton. The short films are all fine productions with superior acting and directing and skillful camera work that captures the beauty of the diverse settings throughout the city like Hells Gate in Astoria and Kettle of Fish in Greenwich Village. The celebration also featured live performances of monologues and soliloquies from NYSX regulars. Even as a cover band performed nineties tunes in the downstairs portion of the bar and ESPN played on enormous screens in the background, the actors were fearless and always the center of attention. Highlights included Brendan Averett, who blocked a football game on a 90” television with his commanding voice and tall stature as he took on Hamlet, and Elizabeth Neptune, who played a lively Mercutio, gesturing with a near-full pint of beer in one hand.
The event was in keeping with NYSX’s other Shakespeare-related events, which include a recurring ShakesBEER pub-crawl. This and NYSX’s other events and projects are an inspired way to maintain an active engagement with Shakespeare’s eternal works, complete with good-natured fun and revelry. Artistic Director Ross Williams and team are a welcoming and driven bunch and we look forward to more plays, sonnets, drinking, and merriment with them in the future.