Troupe's Goal: Every Wise Man's Son Doth Know Shakespeare

Alex Zavistovich and Jessica Hansen rehearse
Alex Zavistovich and Jessica Hansen rehearse "Twelfth Night." (Courtesy Janet Zavistovich)
By Megan Greenwell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 31, 2007

Alex Zavistovich wants to convince Charles County high-schoolers that Shakespeare isn't boring.

Zavistovich, a member of Washington's Lean & Hungry Theatre troupe, thinks Shakespeare's plays are entertaining, even transformational. He's going to Indian Head next week to prove it.

Lean & Hungry actors will perform a staged reading of Shakespeare's comedy "Twelfth Night" on June 9 at the Black Box Theatre at the Indian Head Center for the Arts. Zavistovich, the former director of operations at the Indian Head theater, chose the play because it's on this year's reading list for Charles County high school students.

"We have an interest both in performing classics and in fulfilling an educational need," Zavistovich said. "Most high school reading lists have a variety of Shakespearean plays in the curriculum, so we were interested in bringing that to life."

"Twelfth Night," a tale about a love triangle and a practical joke gone wrong, is a staple of high school reading lists, often accompanied by one of Shakespeare's tragedies. Zavistovich noted that the man whose plays are commonly considered the best in the English language suffers somewhat of an image problem among teenagers. So the idea of next week's one-night-only reading was born.

"It's our strongest desire to bring together two things: education and the arts," said Peggy Palmer, president of the Chesapeake Bay Floating Theatre, which operates the Indian Head Center for the Arts. "Kids today don't understand that there's something for them in theater."

Zavistovich acknowledged that it might be difficult to get students to turn out for the reading, which is just days before the end of the school year, but he said he hopes it will be the first of many similar events. The Prince George's County resident said he was especially excited to be part of a performance in Southern Maryland, where students do not have the same access to cultural events as in Washington.

"It's a unique opportunity for Indian Head and Southern Maryland in general," Zavistovich said. "I have a great appreciation for what the Black Box is trying to do, and I want to support that."

Palmer said the link between the reading and school curriculums fits neatly with the theater's increasing outreach opportunities and efforts to make performances relevant to residents. In September, the Black Box produced a play about the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. And at-risk middle-schoolers participate in a stage training program at Smallwood Middle School in Indian Head.

"We're really expanding the reach at the theater," Palmer said. "This is an audience that's way under-served by the arts."

William Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" will be presented in a staged reading at 7 p.m. June 9. Tickets are $20. For reservations, call 301-292-7538. Black Box Theatre, 4185 Indian Head Hwy., Indian Head.

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