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Theater troupe puts new spin on Bard’s work

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hakespearean theater is ditching the iambic pentameter and frilly Elizabethan costumes for something more hip.

“Julius Caesar” is re-imagined with a mainly female cast set in a high-stakes corporate boardroom. “Much Ado About Nothing” trades Renaissance-era Italy for the flappers, soldiers and suffragettes of the Roaring ’20s.

Romeo and Juliet meet at a superhero costume party, not a fancy ball.

In the hands of EclecticPond Theatre Company, nothing about the traditional play is safe.

Infusing the masterworks of Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde and Alexander Pope with modern day slang and situations, EclecticPond hopes to turn a whole new audience onto the classics. The group edits the works to keep the plot fast-moving and peppers them with pop culture references.

“Basically, we take the works of classic playwrights and try to make very accessible versions of them. We’re not just throwing on dusty costumes. These are plays that deserve to be seen and loved,” said Tom Cardwell, artistic director of the company.

EclecticPond was born, fittingly, in Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s birthplace. Cardwell, his wife, Cat, and a friend met to discuss their desire to form a theater troupe that put an imaginative spin on the works of Shakespeare, morphing it to appeal to a modern audience.

By the time the Cardwells moved back to Indiana, where Cat Cardwell is from, they were ready to put their idea into action. Working in the local theater community, they made connections with actors who would be interested in this form of performance.

Since 2010, the company has tried to take a unique perspective on each show they do. A key is to appeal to children and teens, those who are just getting an introduction to Shakespeare and others.

“Our mission is to create imaginative and accessible theater experiences with the power to engage and empower the lives of young people,” Tom Cardwell said.

The troupe has an educational focus, putting on performances in local schools, working with area libraries and doing community events as well.

Greenwood Public Library will feature the company on April 23 in celebration of Shakespeare’s birthday.

The two selections, “Hamlet” and “Julius Caesar,” were taken from the troupe’s original 10 X 10 performance. Actors condensed the best works of the Bard in a lightning-quick rapid fire style.

They manage to put on Shakespeare’s top 10 plays in about 10 minutes each.

“If you love Shakespeare, great, you get 10 of his shows at once,” Mike Cardwell said. “If you don’t like Shakespeare, it’s also great, because if you wait 10 minutes, you have another play to watch.”

For the Greenwood Public Library, the plays were an ideal fit to offer a refresher course in classic literature, all done in an entertaining way.

“We thought that it would be a fun introduction for people who might not know Shakespeare’s plays as well,” said Valerie Moore, assistant head librarian of reference. “We’re a cultural institution, and it was a good fit for us.”

Condensing these masterworks takes patience and foresight, Tom Cardwell said.

With “Hamlet,” the focus is solely on the murder of Hamlet’s father and his quest for revenge. “Richard III” has been broken down to almost an Abbott & Costello comedy routine, with the plot driven by the confusion of the main characters’ names.

“We keep the major plot that we can, and restructure them when we can,” Tom Cardwell said. “It’s just thinking of what we can do to make some of these accessible.”

The company also has done the other end of the Shakespearean spectrum, putting on five quick plays that most people had never heard of, such as “King John” and “Titus Andronicus.”

Though Tom Cardwell and associate artist Jeremy Grimmer adapted the condensed plays, they also provide their script to the actors to go over and make additions as well.

“They add the best jokes,” Tom Cardwell said.

The company is also about to open its first-ever all-kids production. About 40 children have been rehearsing a version of “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” relocated into the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s.

Seeing their cast of 8- to 16-year-olds grasp the material only helps to emphasize how anyone can relate to Shakespeare and the classics, Tom Caldwell said.

“They’re universal stories. They are stories that are very easy to relate to, not just because everyone has heard them,” he said. “Shakespeare didn’t create most of these stories, he borrowed them then created a new way of telling them.”

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