Theater to Commission 38 Modern Riffs on Shakespeare



The opening pages of Shakespeare’s First Folio. The American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, Va., is holding a contest to create a “modern canon” of companion pieces to his plays.

Matt Roth for The New York Times

The yearlong celebration of Shakespeare’s 400th death-i-versary ends on Saturday. But before the clock strikes midnight, the American Shakespeare Center, a theater company in Staunton, Va., is announcing a future-oriented tribute: a 20-year contest to create 38 modern companion pieces to his plays.

The project, called “Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries,” invites writers to submit plays inspired by each of Shakespeare’s, on a schedule coordinated with the theater’s season. Two winners will be chosen each year, and will be performed in repertory along with the Shakespeare play that inspired them, starting in 2019. (Each winning playwright will receive $25,000.) The final year will consist of a retrospective of the best work from the project.

Jim Warren, the artistic director of the American Shakespeare Center, said in a news release that the company wasn’t looking for straight retellings but, rather, wider-ranging riffs that might include sequels or prequels; plays focused on minor characters or on the first productions of one of Shakespeare’s dramas; or plays that feature modern characters interacting with those from Shakespeare.


From left, Constance Swain, J.C. Long and Josh Clark in an American Shakespeare Center production of “Romeo & Juliet.”

Tommy Thompson

The goal, Mr. Warren added, was to create plays “that not only will appeal to other Shakespeare theaters, but to all types of theaters and audiences around the world.”

The project is only the latest to recast the entire Shakespeare canon in a modern idiom. The Hogarth Shakespeare, begun in 2015, has commissioned novelists including Margaret Atwood, Gillian Flynn and Jo Nesbo to write prose retellings of each play. And Play On!, a project of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, has commissioned 36 playwrights to create what it is calling line-by-line modern English translations of the plays.

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