Bloomsday on Broadway XXI
NOW in its 16th year, the annual Bloomsday on Broadway festival on June 16 at Symphony Space on the Upper West Side has become one of the hottest tickets in the New York calendar. Celebrating both James Joyce and Ireland, it's a far cry from the other dried up celebrations of revered authors legendary watering hole McSorley's provides the ale, for example, and you never have to wait long to hear a song. Says festival host Isaiah Sheffer, "It's always a great deal of fun and a lot of work and we're just sending out the scripts now to the 93 readers who will take to the stage on Bloomsday. Wit so many participants, we have to keep track of them all on a great big spreadsheet. Then we have to double check that each person received the right section to read it's endless!'
Each year the festival focuses on a different aspect of Joyce's masterpiece. This year's theme, Blooms People, will allow the audience to focus more on the characters surrounding Stephen Dedalus and Molly and Leopold Bloom.
"It's a chance for those who don't know Ulysses or who have been a little scared to read it to have a gentle introduction to the differing styles of each episode of the book. With that little bit of help people have told us that they can very much get into it. Especially if they have been a little awed by it in the past," Sheffer says.
What makes Bloomsday on Broadway so special is that the entire 12-hour event seems to thrum along to the same raucous rhythm as New York City itself. "Some people have asked me if it's a literary event or a beer drinking party for my friends and I have to say honestly that yes, it's both," Sheffer says.
Actors and participants from every borough and continent bring the event a truly multicultural flair. Performers read their sections in their own accents, and so there's absolutely no stage Oirish speaking always a distracting and gratuitous nuisance.
Says Sheffer, "It's called Bloomsday on Broadway because we're a theater on Broadway, and because although there's a great deal of Irish actors taking part there's also actors of every background, African American, Asian, Puerto Rican, and there's a goodly number of Jews for Mr. Bloom and other roles, and one thing I insist upon is that they should speak in their own accent.
"There's nothing worse than an American actors trying to do an Irish accent, even if he or she is good at it! Frank McCourt will sound like Frank McCourt and if you're from the Bronx you will sound like you're from the Bronx, and that's good. It makes it a real New York celebration."
From time to time some actors have rebelled against this artistic policy, saying, "If I'm reading a section with Malachy McCourt how can I sound like I'm from Brooklyn?" To which Sheffer replies, "That's the point. And by the way Malachy was born in Brooklyn." Immediately, every actor sees his point.
"So much of life is spent in the shallows," says the inimitable Fionnula Flanagan. "When you have an opportunity to do something this profound you should jump at it!"
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