To say Emily Rowden Fournier is a fan of William Shakespeare is an understatement.
She adores his plays and poems, has read all of them dozens of times and memorized many of the lines.
“My favorite sonnet is Sonnet 130, which starts, ‘My mistress’s eyes are nothing like the sun,’” she says.
Fournier, 26, of Fairfield, is throwing a 450th birthday party Wednesday, April 23, in honor of the English playwright, poet and actor at Selah Tea Cafe in downtown Waterville. From 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., revelers, many in Elizabethan costume, will recite all of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets.
Beforehand, at noon, about 40 costumed characters will start the recitations on The Concourse downtown and then march to Silver Street and proceed north on Main Street to stop at Selah.
Local public figures who have committed to reading sonnets aloud at the party include Waterville Mayor Karen Heck, Fairfield Town Manager Joshua Reny, Fairfield Fire Chief Duane Bickford, state Sen. Colleen Lachowicz and state Rep. Karen Kusiak. Anyone interested is encouraged to read a sonnet, and there are many that have not yet been assigned, Fournier said.
“One thing about Elizabethan times is that there was one place that everyone in the community got together — people from all classes,” she said. “That’s what we’re trying to recreate in the Waterville area.”
The birthday bash also kicks off Fournier and her family’s establishment of The Recycled Shakespeare Company, a new local theater troupe that will perform Shakespeare plays in the area using mostly recycled, re-purposed materials for costumes, sets and props. The company’s first performance will be “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” in June, at a time and date to be announced. Auditions for the production will be Tuesday, April 29, in the basement of St. Joseph Maronite Catholic Church on Front Street.
“We are going to try to cast everyone who auditions,” Fournier said. “If 150 people audition, then we’re going to have 140 fairies. We really just want everyone to be involved. Our whole concept is to create fun and enthusiastic productions utilizing recycled and re-purposed materials and the local talent that is here. That’s the important piece of local theater — the enthusiasm. We’re not asking people to be Broadway performers.”
Fournier will be producer and her brother, Aaron Rowden, will direct. He is an attorney and Fairfield town councilor and has acted at the Theater at Monmouth, Brunswick Youth Theater, Freeport Theater and with the Gilbert & Sullivan Society at Georgetown Law School.
Their mother, Lyn Rowden, also has been involved in theater and is renting Elizabethan costumes for the birthday bash at Selah Tea. It was she who got her daughter interested in theater at a very early age by taking her to see plays. Emily remembers watching “Macbeth” at Colby College when she was just a tyke.
“I think I was the youngest person in the audience by about 15 years. I started reading Shakespeare when I was in kindergarten — I’m not joking. I saw the play, ‘Hamlet,’ when I was in kindergarten and I went home and took out my Mom’s Shakespeare book and I read ‘Hamlet’ and memorized the ‘Goodnight, sweet prince’ monologue. I performed it to my mother with a teddy bear.”
She says she always has been passionate about Shakespeare.
“I think I’ve read ‘Romeo and Juliet’ 20 or 30 times now. I’ve taught adult classes on Shakespearean literature and Shakespeare, out of my own home. I am currently dissecting ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in preparation for the production.”
Now a home care provider, Fournier grew up in Fairfield and attended Lawrence High School briefly before enrolling in the Maine School of Science and Mathematics in Limestone, from which she graduated in 2006. She then attended St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., where she majored in English, specifically because of her love of Shakespeare. She received a bachelor’s degrees in 2011.
It was at St. Anselm that she got the idea for celebrating Shakespeare’s birthday in a big way.
“For the past 25-plus years, St. Anselm has been doing a similar event with the college community. Alumni, retired staff, professors, students all gather and read all 154 sonnets and the theater department puts on skits based on Shakespeare’s works. Since coming back to Maine I’ve been trying to do something similar.”
While in high school, Rowden wrote an in-depth piece on Shakespeare’s view of feminism, according to female roles in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ — focusing on the characters of Juliet, the nurse and Juliet’s mother.
“I also focused on how that pertained to the Elizabethan times and the censorship of literature and productions.”
Fournier says the thing that she loves about Shakespeare is that his works are universal. Written in the late 1500s and early 1600s, the works explore what it is to be human, and that is something all humans are trying to find answers to, according to Fournier.
“His works are not just set in a time — they span all time,” she said. “He can move anyone to tears. We can still feel the pain that is felt in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ or understand why Titus Andronicus grieves so much over the rape of his daughter. We watch HBO for the same sensation.”
She says she will dress as an Elizabethan woman for Shakespeare’s bash, and her husband, Joshua Fournier, will dress as Shakespeare. Her husband, she said, understands more than anyone her obsession with Shakespeare.
“I almost live and breathe it,” she says, and then exhales a joyful laugh.
“I told my husband that if Shakespeare came back, I’d divorce him and marry Shakespeare — even though he was a womanizer.”
Those wanting more information about the birthday event or theater troupe may call 314-8607 or visit the Facebook page.
Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 26 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]