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Reading group brings The Bard to Canton

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They may be sitting around a table instead of trodding onstage, but members of Canton’s Shakespeare reading group still are whisked back to the Renaissance by the words of the Bard.

The group was founded in September by Morgan E. Hastings of the Grasse River Players.

Its members meet once a month, scripts in hand, to read through an entire Shakespeare play over the course of about two hours.

Mr. Hastings took up acting after moving to Canton from San Francisco about a year ago.

“People always said I’m a ham,” he joked.

He created the reading group as a way to bring a bit more culture to the area, and the clever language of history’s most famous playwright made Shakespeare an obvious choice.

“It’s just so fast and witty that you automatically become more intelligent,” he said.

On Sunday the group met at Canton Free Library to read “Twelfth Night,” a comedy of mistaken identity. The famous quote “Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them” comes from this play.

“We’ve been keeping it really light so far, sticking to the comedies,” Mr. Hastings said. “I want to get the group a little more settled first before we try something really dark, like ‘Hamlet’ or ‘Macbeth.’”

The atmosphere is informal. The reading pauses occasionally as people chuckle at a clever line or stumble over an especially antiquated turn of phrase. Most of the group members found out about the readings through the Grasse River Players or by word of mouth, although recently the group began advertising with posters and radio announcements.

“It’s fun to gather around and divvy up these parts in the beginning, then read through them,” said Grasse River Players member Jennifer L. Freego, Canton.

New members always are welcome, either to read along or simply watch. Those interested can contact Mr. Hastings by email at morganh1066@gmail.com.

Arthur L. Johnson, Potsdam, said the readings give him the chance to learn more about Shakespeare’s work.

“I’ve always enjoyed Shakespeare, but I had not read much of these,” he said.

Some may not enjoy the thought of spending hours reading antiquated language, but Mr. Hastings said that once the readings begin, the time flies.

“At the end we feel like we’ve really accomplished something,” he said.

He said that some day, the group might attempt a full-fledged production, but for now will stick to readings. Members will be reading through “The Tempest” in February as part of Canton’s Winterfest celebration.

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