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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Defense Bill to Bring Shakespeare to Troops

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- It is true what Othello said: "Tis the soldier's life to have their balmy slumbers waked with strife." Thus, it seems a fine use of funds to treat American troops to a tour of Shakespeare. Tucked inside the $368 billion defense bill approved by Congress last month is an easily overlooked item because it is so relatively small -- $1 million for Shakespeare performances to shift soldiers' attention from the battlefield to the Bard.

But the money could have a big impact as the Alabama Shakespeare Festival and several other theater companies bring their plays to U.S. military bases, National Endowment for the Arts spokeswoman Felicia Knight said. "It runs the gamut of all human dramas: love, passion, war and death. I think these productions, whether it is "Othello" or "Macbeth," will resonate with them," Knight said.

She credited Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, head of the Senate Appropriations Committee, with helping to get the money for the project. Knight said this was the first time that the NEA has brought any kind of art to the U.S. military.

While the 16 military bases chosen for the performances are undecided, Alaska will be on the list, Knight said.

The Aquila Theatre Company of New York is scheduled to perform "Othello" in Anchorage in March, and the run likely will be extended for a performance at one of Alaska's military bases, she said.

The military performances are part of Shakespeare in American Communities, sponsored by the NEA and the Minneapolis-based Arts Midwest.

The 15-month project includes a tour of more than 100 small and mid-size communities in all 50 states. It began Sept. 20 in New London, Connecticut, and continues through Nov. 2004.

The Alabama Shakespeare Festival in Montgomery will continue its version of "Macbeth" at the military bases after its local production schedule ends next June, said Alan Harrison, the festival's managing director.

"What we expect is that people will have the same positive response that they had 200 years ago to the English playwright," Harrison said. "It really hits to the heart of an emotional response, the kind that drives countries."