ACMRS Press, the publications division of the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Arizona State University in Tempe, is introducing this spring the first three titles in its new series, Play on Shakespeare. Play on Shakespeare is the culmination of a project, called Play On! Shakespeare, launched in 2015 by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The project commissioned 36 playwrights from diverse backgrounds commissioned to bring the works of William Shakespeare from the 16th century into the 21st century by adapting all 39 of the Bard’s plays from their original Elizabethan English into a more modern diction.
The first title in ACMRS’s series, Macbeth, adapted by Nuyorican playwright Migdalia Cruz, will be published in May, followed in June by As You Like It, adapted by actor and director David Ivers, and The Tempest, adapted by playwright Kenneth Cavander. Three more plays will be released this fall: Hamlet, The Merchant of Venice, and A Midsummer’s Night Dream.
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Play On! Shakespeare project was wide-ranging, involving roughly 1,000 actors, directors, stage managers, and producers collaborating on nearly 80 readings, workshops, productions, and demonstrations in 19 different cities and in partnership with 24 different theatres and academic institutions. In the summer of 2019, all 39 plays were performed at the Classic Stage Company in Manhattan. According to the New York Times' 2015 report on the project, more than half of the playwrights were women or people of color.
Those commissioned to adapt the plays were charged with considering meter, rhyme, and rhythm, as well as with conveying Shakespeare’s meanings and metaphors in accessible and contemporary (but not "slang-y") English. The first rule was: "Do no harm." No scenes were cut or edited, no changes were made to a play's setting, and playwrights were discouraged from injecting their own politics into the translations.
ACMRS Press is headed by director Ayanna Thompson, a Renaissance expert who is also Shakespeare scholar-in-residence at the Public Theater in New York City. ACMRS titles are distributed by the University of Chicago Press.