Joe Burns mug

Joe Burns

Even though we are three weeks into the new year, welcome to 2020. I like the roundness and repetition in the sound of that date. It reminds me of the year 2002 — same numbers but in a different order. That was the year I retired from teaching. I always knew that I would retire at some point, and then in 2002 it was reality. That turned out to be a very significant year in my life, and I have a feeling that 2020 will be similar.

Arriving at 2020 makes me think of the Voyager I space probe launched in 1977 that is still traveling somewhere beyond the solar system in outer-space. I feel kind of like that probe, and like the Energizer Bunny. It never occurred to me in 1977 that in the year 2020 I would still be going and going.

I’m not particularly a fan of resolutions, but I did want to come up with an activity that would focus my attention throughout the year. I found just what I was looking for when I read the announcement for the Shakespeare 2020 Project. As I read the proposal, I could see myself sitting in my camper reading Shakespeare while listening to the sound of Sandhill cranes roosting on the Platte River. I was hooked.

As of mid-January, well over 3,000 participants worldwide have accepted the invitation to read Shakespeare’s plays and poems and share their experiences with the Shakespeare Project community.

The plan is kind of a “Back to the Future” experience. I fondly remember my English literature class in high school. I also studied Shakespeare in college and enjoyed teaching Macbeth to my high school students. I still have a model of the Globe Theater that I used in my classroom. At home, my kids used the theater as a doll house. Maybe that replica of the “Wooden O” inspired my oldest daughter, Erin, to become a theater stage manager.

Over the years I have read and watched live and filmed performances of many Shakespeare plays, but there are a good number that I have neither read nor seen. For me, reading the complete works is like finishing a marathon, I look forward to the satisfaction of saying I accomplished what I set out to do.

The project is not as insurmountable as one might think. There are a wealth of excellent video and audio resources. I read some of the plays in my old Riverside Shakespeare edition from college and some on my iPad. I also listen to an audio recording while reading the text. Listening helps me get a feel for the rhythm and tempo of the dialogue and distinguish the voice of one character from another.

Another reason why the project attracted my attention is that Shakespeare is timeless. I needed a diversion from the contemporary political discourse that fills the mass and social media. I was spending way too much time scrolling through Facebook and Twitter feeds and political commentary. While parallels to modern politics and political figures can be found on every page of Shakespeare’s history plays, the Project 2020 rule is to be welcoming to everyone and not make the discussion argumentative — keep it civil and relevant to the plays.

That said, there is no Shakespeare police. It is OK to read all or just some of the plays. Whether you are a scholar, an actor, a teacher or reading Shakespeare for the first time, you are welcome.

My approach for tackling this project is much like my preparation and travels along the Lewis and Clark trail last summer. Along the way, I am doing my research and trying to make effective use of my resources including the time necessary to make the project a success. But mostly, I’m just looking forward to experiencing, learning and enjoying the journey.

Joe Burns is the primary photographer for the Washington County Pilot-Tribune and Enterprise.

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