Judi Dench, Angela Bassett headline Shakespeare Theatre’s virtual gala

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Shakespeare Theatre Gala (Part 1)

Shakespeare Theatre has not been able to put on live shows in D.C. for months.

Instead, it’s holding the virtual Shakespeare Theatre Gala on Saturday night.

“We’ve had many, many galas in the past and they’ve always traditionally been in our theater spaces,” Artistic Director Simon Godwin told WTOP. “This is a completely new initiative for us. This is the first time we’ve done a virtual gala. We have never done a virtual gala before, so we are certainly breaking new ground this year.”

Godwin will emcee live from Sidney Harman Hall, introducing celebrity guests, such as Angela Bassett, Merle Dandridge, Judi Dench, Maureen Dowd, Harry Lennix, Norm Lewis, Helen Mirren, Kalen Robinson, Russell Thomas and Courtney B. Vance.

“Ralph Fiennes has actually prepared a passage from ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ that he’s shot in North Africa where the play is set in Egypt,” Godwin said. “I hear that Dame Helen Mirren is very keen to play the role of Juliet from ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ so she sent in a speech of her reading some Juliet. I think it’s going to be extraordinary.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Shakespeare Theatre Gala (Part 2)

In addition to Shakespeare, the event will also highlight social justice issues.

“We’ve all this year come to a new understanding of how Black Lives Matter,” Godwin said. “We were in fact producing James Baldwin’s extraordinary play ‘The Amen Corner’ on our main stage when the pandemic struck. [We’re] thinking about our programming, our artists and staff in an invigorating and inclusive new way.”

The entire event is free of charge to the public.

“Tickets cost exactly nothing,” Godwin said. “It’s the first time in history that we’ve ever had a free gala. That’s thrilling because it means people can join us from D.C., from Virginia, from Maryland, indeed from across America, indeed from across the world. The title of our gala is ‘Shakespeare Everywhere,’ so it’s very much a celebration.”

Of course, you can make a donation if you wish.

“It’s also a fundraiser,” Godwin said. “As people see extraordinary guests like Ralph Fiennes, like Dame Helen Mirren, like Dame Judi Dench, like Angela Bassett joining us and sharing passages, they might be moved to text and give us a small donation.”

The gala was first held in 2006, and has since been hailed by Washington Life Magazine as the “most buzzed-about gala” in the nation’s capital.

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