Casting Rome and Atlanta-based actors for the Fourth Annual Rome Shakespeare Festival running Sept. 12-29 was the easy part.
Finding just the right dog to play the part of Crab in “Two Gentlemen of Verona” could prove more of a challenge.
“Three or four dogs are applying for the position. Three of them are trying out tomorrow night,” Festival Founder/Artistic Director Gail Deschamps said Tuesday with a hearty chortle. “The dog basically needs to be docile enough to not be disturbed by the fact that there’s a large audience and music. When I did this in Florida, 150 people showed up with dogs. It was hysterical. We wound up getting a wonderful dog that could bark on cue and handle the required moves such as lifting a leg under women’s skirts and stealing food from other characters.”
One thing’s for sure about this year’s festival featuring a total of four popular Shakespeare productions: It will delight all ages, Deschamps said.
The production starts Sept. 12 with the complete works of William Shakespeare Abridged at the River Arts District Playhouse, followed by a musical version of “Hamlet” set in the 1940s on the Town Green Sept. 19 with Georgia’s professional screen and stage actor Levi Burdick playing the title role.
A special Family Day on the Town Green is set for Sept. 21, starting at noon with a full day of entertainment that includes the youth symphony, Irish step dancers, performances of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” interactive art booths, face painting, jugglers, balloon animals and food trucks. An 8 p.m. performance of “Two Gentlemen of Verona” caps off the day.
The productions continue to run on alternating evenings through Sept. 29 and offer not only free blanket seats on the lawn, but a variety of paid table options. Patrons can either bring their own picnics or purchase meals from local food vendors.
“Kids are going to eat this show up,” Deschamps, an England-born Shakespeare fan since the age of 6, said of Two Gentlemen, in particular. “It’s as funny as can be. There’s an outlaw scene where there are two bumbling idiots. In rehearsals nobody can keep a straight face.”
Darlington High School graduate Russell Evans, 34, said before Tuesday’s rehearsal he’s been having a blast preparing for his roles as Laertes in “Hamlet” and Valentine in “Two Gentlemen of Verona.”
The local UPS junior marketing director, who also took part in the recent Rome Celebrity Dance Challenge, said that if someone had asked him in high school if he ever thought he’d been doing Shakespeare, he would have answered with a resounding “No.”
But having worked with Deschamps on “Anything Goes,” he jumped at the chance to be a part of the Shakespeare Festival at its beginning in 2015.
“I admire Gail’s vision,” Evans said. “But first and foremost, she puts a lot of faith in her actors and treats them with a lot of respect when it comes to their choices on the stage. I love every minute of working with her.”
To order a table, visit www.romeshakespearefestival.com or call 706-331-1006.