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05/24/2004 07:00:00

Caltech students will read the entire works of Shakespeare during 24-hour marathon

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PASADENA, Calif.—The California Institute of Technology is normally a place where students are more comfortable with space-time than sonnets. But that could change in the course of the upcoming 24-hour Shakespeare Read-A-Thon.

Beginning at 4 p.m. Friday, May 28, and continuing nonstop through 4 p.m. Saturday, May 29, Caltech students, staff, faculty, and anyone else who wants to volunteer will read aloud every single word Shakespeare ever wrote. In addition to all 39 plays, the volunteers will also read the elegant sonnets and the verse masterpieces "The Rape of Lucrece" and "Venus and Adonis." Shakespeare's oeuvre is so extensive that the volunteers will be obliged to read five works simultaneously in order to cover all the material in 24 hours.

By anyone's standard, that's a lot of Shakespeare, but Read-A-Thon co-organizers Nicholas Rupprecht, Ryan Witt, and Parag Bhayani think the event is well worth the effort. Although none of the three is an English major, all have appeared in Caltech's annual productions of Shakespeare's plays, and all look eagerly to having a public reading of the seldom-performed works, even if they have to forgo costumes and stage props.

In fact, it may be best that the plays will be read by people in street clothes, because their changing from one costume to another in the course of a play would probably be a dizzying affair. The parts in Shakespeare's plays are so numerous and the Caltech volunteers so comparatively few in number that some of the readers will have to cover the speaking parts of as many as 20 characters per play. One of the volunteers, for example, will play Hamlet, as well as Cornelius, Francisco, Voltemand, and an unnamed messenger.

The task of assigning parts has been taken on by Rupprecht, a junior in mathematics. Rupprecht decided that the best scenario was to match the gender of character and reader as often as possible, and to minimize situations where the readers have to "speak to themselves."

"A few of the plays have only three readers, if logistically possible," says Rupprecht. "But the histories were a nightmare because they tend to have so many speaking parts and there's so much interaction between characters. It took me about an hour and a half on each history to figure out how to split the play up into four roles."

Rupprecht has signed himself up to read continuously for the entire 24 hours. He may be the Caltech reader who is most fatigued at the end of the Read-A-Thon, but one student who could suffer from a dose of literary identity crisis is Matt Wroten, who will be responsible for 20 of the 60 roles in Henry VI Part 2.

"That's what he gets for picking Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing," Rupprecht explains, noting that the role is one of the most coveted among Shakespearean performers.

Why, one may ask, would the students at one of America's elite science universities do such a thing as read all of Shakespeare's works in one sitting?

"Why not?" replies Bhayani, a sophomore in mathematics.

Seriously, though, Bhayani is attracted by the uniqueness of having the reading marathon at a small elite science university as well as by his appreciation for Shakespeare's works, he says. Although the reading marathon has been done at Wellesley College, the Caltech organizers think that the Caltech event will be even more remarkable just because of Caltech's size and inclinations.

"I'm sure Wellesley is a bigger school than we are, with more interest in the humanities," says Rupprecht.

As for finding volunteers, Bhayani says there are still open slots available. "We've had to do a little cajoling and persuading to find volunteers," he says.

Among the faculty, literature professor Cathy Jurca and physics professor Steve Frautschi have both signed on for reading shifts, and the organizers hope to talk additional faculty into joining the effort. The Caltech theater arts organization TACIT has also been of significant help, although not technically a sponsor.

And lest anyone suspect that the Read-A-Thon is merely a whim, Bhayani and Rupprecht both say they have a deep and abiding appreciation for Shakespeare. All three organizers, in fact, have taken the Shakespeare class offered in the Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences.

"Out of the classes I've taken here, Shakespeare has been my favorite," Rupprecht says.

The Read-A-Thon will take place at the Avery House on the north end of the Caltech campus. Media and spectators are welcome to attend.

Contact: Robert Tindol (626) 395-3631