Shakespeare in your free time

In high school, Shakespeare was required reading, but in college Shakespeare can be a leisurely activity. That’s the goal of the Shakespeare Theatre Company, a D.C. venue that recently launched a new student liaison program aimed to attract a newer, younger audience to the 7th Street Northwest playhouse.

The Theatre Company will enlist two to four student representatives, called ?ber neos, from seven area colleges, including GW, American University, Georgetown University, the University of Maryland, Catholic University, Howard University and George Mason University.

Its main goal is to present classic theater in an accessible, skillful, imaginative, American style that accurately represents playwrights’ language and intentions but portrays their plays through a 21st-century lens.

While they mostly do plays by the Bard himself, the theater also highlights other historical playwrights such as French dramatists Moli?re and Alfred de Musset, ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus, and Irish writer Oscar Wilde, and they think students, especially, would benefit from their performances.

The neos will act as a direct link between the theater and their campuses to advertise the program’s exclusive student-friendly deals, like half-price tickets, Student Preview Week discounts, access to priority events and other offers that will be announced in e-newsletters and on-campus postings.

Last semester GW was chosen as one of two college campuses to pilot the Neo program. Shakespeare Theatre Company public relations associate Lauren Beyea said last fall’s neos helped increase student interest in the theater company’s productions, and thanks to their success the Neo program is reaching out to the D.C. area’s other major universities this spring.

Beyea said the theater company is expanding this year, with plans for a new theater and more annual productions under way. Company officials hope the renovations will draw in younger followers, she said.

“Starting on Oct. 1 we will have 776 new seats to fill (in the theater company’s new Harman Center for the Arts), so we’re reaching out to young people, and are very glad to see their positive reaction (to the fall neo program),” she said.

One of the ?ber neos’ most successful student outreach tools is the program’s Facebook group Neos @ Shakespeare Theatre Company and the program’s Web site www.Shakespearetheatre.org/neos.

In exchange for their voluntary on-campus promotions, ?ber neos will receive two complimentary tickets to the company’s donor-level events, such as Opening Night parties, First Rehearsals and other special events where they will have the opportunity to meet actors, directors and designers from the Washington Theatre scene, Beyea wrote in an e-mail.

GW junior Michael Hyland became one of the company’s first ?ber neos last semester after he went to a few shows at the Shakespeare Theatre Company. During his time as a student liaison, Hyland met with company staff and other ?ber neos throughout the semester to discuss the program, see performances and plan ways to promote shows on campus and involve other students. “Getting people enthusiastic about classical theater, which is not usually something people think about doing for fun in D.C., is great,” Hyland said. “Actually getting out there and getting into it is something I’m glad I can be a part of.”

GW sophomore Maddie Shapiro, another one of GW’s ?ber neo volunteers, takes in a show at the Shakespeare Theatre Company often, and “always wondered why other students who are interested in theater don’t ever go see any,” she said.

Shapiro became interested in the idea of reaching out to college students and making local theater more accessible to them.

“The key is to make students aware,” she said. “Once GW students hear about the offers and learn that the Shakespeare Company is trying to gear more towards the student demographic, the idea seems extremely appealing.”

Kisa Willis, one of Howard University’s ?ber neos, said she believes that this program will help a younger audience become appreciate Shakespeare’s literature and ideas.

“Shakespeare and other classical works can be related to today’s issues and challenges, and are not as foreign as people think,” Willis said, adding that perks like a free glass of wine with your ticket for students over 21 are key to helping draw in that younger crowd.

“A lot of young people don’t appreciate Shakespeare as much as they could. They think that Shakespeare is separate from their lives,” Willis said. “It’s actually not, and everyone can enjoy and connect with it.”

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