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Why Shakespeare Resonates For A New Audience

Courtesy Freehold Theatre

Summer means Shakespeare has arrived in the Pacific Northwest. You can see Shakespeare in parks, tents and even theaters in every major city and a few quaint towns. But Freehold Theatre aims its Shakespeare at a slightly different population.

The Seattle company's new adaptation of Shakespeare's "Henry IV" will have a public run at the University of Washington’s Penthouse Theater. But Freehold is more interested in presenting Shakespeare to audiences that don't normally see full theatrical productions: prisoners, soldiers and patients.

Reginald Andre Jackson, who plays the role of Hal, adapted Shakespeare's text for the Freehold production. He says performing in prisons, or on a military base, forces the actors to be as true to the subject matter as possible.

"When war is a big subject matter," Jackson explains, "and you're doing it for people who've experienced it, they're going to have a different outlook" than the average audience member.

For the past decade or so, Freehold has taken performances and workshops into the Monroe prison and the Purdy Women's Correctional Facility in Gig Harbor. This summer, the company performed at Seattle's Harborview Medical Center and Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Jackson has worked with Freehold for several years, as a performer and a teacher at the prison in Monroe. Jackson believes theater is more than a luxury for the men he works with; he believes it's integral to their rehabilitation.

"They have to have some experience of what life is, and what humanity is about," Jackson stresses. "The opportunity to have something like this come into a facility like that is, I think, very important."

And, a bottom line for Jackson, William Shakespeare's plays speak to the inmates.

"He really creates characters we care about," says Jackson. "It's war and it's honor. There are a lot of life and death situations in it. Everyone feels every emotion of every Shakespearean character."

Freehold Theatre presents Jackson's adaption of Shakespeare’s “Henry IV,” "The Flower of England's Face," starting July 12 at the University of Washington’s Penthouse Theater.