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Shakespeare's sonnets come to life in new app

By Natasha Baker

TORONTO (Reuters) - A new app launched on Monday aims to bring William Shakespeare's sonnets to the masses with the help of short films starring stage actors performing them in front of New York landmarks.

The Sonnet Project is a free app for the iPhone and iPad that showcases the bard's poetry through films of up to two minutes and performances by Tony-Award winning actors Joanna Gleason and Cady Huffman, among others.

"Shakespeare gets a bad rap. A lot of people say ‘I don't like Shakespeare, he's over my head,' or ‘Shakespeare is boring,'" said Ross Williams, the artistic director of the New York Shakespeare Exchange, the non-profit organization behind The Sonnet Project.

"I wondered what happens if we share Shakespeare in really easily digestible chunks so people can get used to having him in their lives?" he added.

Shakespeare's 154 sonnets, first published in 1609 explore themes such as the love, beauty, and death.

Different locations across New York were selected for each sonnet, including the World Trade Center Memorial and the Brooklyn Bridge. Actors and directors and text coaches helped to interpret the themes.

To mark the launch of the app, 10 short films will be released on Monday, and a new one every few days after that. About 75 more films have been completed or are in the works. Users can receive notifications with the iPhone app when a new one is released.

Another iPad app released last year called The Sonnets by William Shakespeare includes performances by actress Kim Cattrall, of "Sex and the City" fame, Patrick Stewart of "Star Trek" and British actor Stephen Fry.

Created by Britain's Touch Press, it also features commentary and information about the sonnets. The app, which costs $6.99, also includes a replica of the original sonnets, and interviews with scholars and Shakespeare experts.

Cambridge University Press also launched two new iPad apps for Shakespeare lovers in February as part of their "Explore Shakespeare" series, including the plays "Twelfth Night" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream". Other plays in the series include "Macbeth" and "Romeo and Juliet." Each cost $13.99 and feature audio performances, commentary and other interactive content.

Williams said the New York Shakespeare Exchange's mission is to bring Shakespeare to the masses. He hopes that by introducing Shakespeare's sonnets in small bites people will appreciate and understand the works.

"When you hear those words something just moves, shifts inside of you," he explained. "There is a simplicity of spirit within the poetry and I think that's why people can connect to it in such an amazing way."

(Editing by Patricia Reaney and Paul Casciato)

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