Acclaimed storyteller brings Shakespeare to Shelton

In As You Like It, William Shakespeare writes, “All the world's a stage.”

But for the 200 people who regularly attend Nights with Shakespeare, the stage that really matters is the one on which Bob Smith stands every Tuesday night at Shelton's Enterprise Corporate Park. Smith's an award-winning author, director and consummate storyteller.

He's been profiled on the front page of The New York Times and has been featured on The Today Show and radio and television across the U.S., Canada and Great Britain. In 2002, the BBC produced an award-winning documentary of Smith's Shakespeare work. He's been a sold-out speaker at New York's 92nd Street Y for two decades. Locally, for just under three years, he's been delighting the Tuesday night regulars in Shelton with his journeys through the Bard's masterworks.

Nights with Shakespeare is sponsored by Robert Scinto, chairman of R.D. Scinto Inc. It's free and open to the public.

“For eight years my wife Barbara and I attended Bob's sessions at the Stratford Library,” Scinto said. “The insights we gained made us eager to share this very special Connecticut man.

“Smith is compelling and sharp,” Scinto said. “His insights and playful observations give participants a much deeper understanding of the world of Shakespeare. Bob Smith helps you see that these plays are completely relevant today.”

Nights with Shakespeare uses an innovative device to illustrate Shakespeare's texts. For each play the works of a master artist are displayed though a state of the art projection system. John Singer Sargent was used for The Merchant of Venice, Rembrandt's self-portraits for Hamlet, the artful splatters of Jackson Pollack for Macbeth are a few of the remarkable artists that have helped illustrate 18 of Shakespeare's masterworks.

Every Tuesday night Ralph Famiglietti and a friend drive from Prospect and Cheshire to attend. Famiglietti said, “Before taking this class, I never understood Shakespeare. Someone told me to try Bob — that was two years ago!”

Lynn Todd Reid, of Shelton, agrees.

“Bob's class is completely different from what you'd expect,” Reid said. “It feels as if he’s telling you a wonderful story and you just need to keep coming back. I wouldn't miss it for the world.”

Smith is quick to point out that he's neither a scholar nor an actor. What he does through a combination of brilliant mastery of the text, historical insights and comic one-liners is to help people connect to Shakespeare.

The Scinto's always start with a positive, can-do attitude,” Smith said. “Katie [Scinto] and I work closely together on selecting plays that will best serve our group. She's a great producer.”

Smith discovered Shakespeare at the Stratford Library when he was 11. Fascinated, he started to memorize Shakespeare line-by-line. During his teens, Smith worked as a dresser and on-stage in numerous plays produced during the heyday of the American Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford. His award-winning memoir, Hamlet's Dresser chronicles this exciting time of working with theater legends like Bert Lahr, Katherine Hepburn and Jessica Tandy. In addition to the U.S., Canada and Great Britain Hamlet's Dresser is also published in Germany, Italy and Spain. Smith recorded his book for Blackstone audio.

At 7 p.m. on Oct. 16 Nights with Shakespeare will begin its nineteenth play, Titus Andronicus.

“The barbarous and evocative Titus Andronicus is the text that first put young Shakespeare on the theatrical map,” Smith said.” And for art I've selected the iconic master of the grotesque, the glorious Pablo Picasso.

“Strap yourselves in, it's a wild ride and I can hardly wait.”

Nights with Shakespeare is free and open to the public at the Enterprise Auditorium, 3 Corporate Drive, Shelton.

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