WATERVILLE — They marched through the downtown in Elizabethan garb, waving sticks with green and red ribbons and singing songs written by the guest of honor: William Shakespeare.

“Anon!” Emily Rowden Fournier called to a woman who poked her head out of a storefront door. “Happy 450th birthday to the great William Shakespeare!”

Fournier, in a pouffy, multi-colored dress with strings tightly tied at the waist, then curtsied. Her mother, Lyn Rowden, dressed as Queen Elizabeth I, stood nearby.

“It took us two hours to get dressed, between us,” Fournier said. “We now understand why women back then had ladies in waiting.”

It was noon and the women were fluttering about with other characters in costume, including Fournier’s husband, Joshua, dressed as the Bard of Avon himself in striped billowing pants, tall black boots, a white, ruffle-collared shirt and velvet cap with a feather protruding from the front.

They were reading sonnets aloud and preparing to celebrate the birthday of the British poet and playright at Selah Tea Cafe on downtown Main Street, where they would be joined by 150 other people, many of whom would read a sonnet until all 154 had been recited aloud. The party, starting at 2 p.m., lasted until the early evening.

Readers included local public figures such as Mayor Karen Heck, Fairfield Town Manager Joshua Reny, state Sen. Colleen Lachowicz, D-Waterville, and state Rep. Karen Kusiak, D-Fairfield.

But first, the Fourniers and Rowden regaled window shoppers.

They sang in unison as they swarmed up Silver Street, through the restaurant section: “For he’s a jolly good fellow, for he’s a jolly good fellow, for he’s a jolly good fellow, which nobody can deny!”

Stepping into the Last Unicorn restaurant, they announced the Bard’s birthday, read a sonnet and received applause from patrons who stopped eating to gape.

“Beautiful!” bartender Cheryl Pellerin said as she waltzed by.

Unicorn Patron Cheryl Burton of Winslow was headed out the door when the troupe filed in.

Delighted at the surprise development, she snapped a picture.

“It’s my daughter’s birthday, too,” Burton crooned.

An English literature major in college, Burton knew it was the 450th anniverary of the Bard’s birth and said she knew the minute she saw the people dressed as Shakespeare characters that something fun was about to happen.

“I loved it,” she said afterward. “I thought it was wonderful.”

Shakespeare reportedly was born in Stratford-upon-Avon around April 23, 1564 — an exact date has not been established. He also died on April 23 — in 1616. In addition to the sonnets, Shakespeare wrote 38 plays and two long poems.

A Shakespeare fan since she was young, Emily Rowden Fournier, 26, and her family, of Fairfield, not only organized the Shakespeare birthday party, but also recently formed a theater troupe called the Recycled Shakespeare Co. They will hold auditions for their first performance, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Tuesday in the basement of St. Joseph Maronite Catholic Church on Front Street.

Everyone who auditions will be cast, as a way to bring the community together in the spirit of Elizabethan times, according to Rowden Fournier, who will be the company’s producer. Her brother, Aaron Rowden, will direct. He is a Fairfield city councilor and an attorney who studied law at Georgetown Law School, where he performed with the Gilbert and Sullivan Society there. He also has performed with the Theater at Monmouth.

When the troupe entered Selah Tea around 2 p.m. Wednesday, they met Richard Sewell, a Shakespearean actor and founder of the Theater at Monmouth, who also was theater director at Colby College for 27 years.

Sewell, who said he wasn’t aware a Shakespeare party was to take place at the cafe Wednesday, laughed heartily and was tickled at the sight of the Elizabethan characters tromping in, reciting sonnets.

“I had no idea — it looks like fun,” he said.

He was introduced to Aaron Rowden, and they talked about their experiences at Monmouth Theater.

The troupe had entered Selah singing “Happy Birthday” to applause from patrons.

“That’s awesome,” said Sean Landry of Pittsfield. He was the first person to greet the characters and the first to be solicited to read a sonnet.

“I don’t know if I’d be able to read it very well,” he said, but then stood to the task.

“Tis better to be vile than vile esteemed …” he recited from Sonnet 121, in a clear, booming voice.

After Landry acknowledged he had been involved in theater while in high school, Rowden Fournier handed him information about auditions for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

“I’ve thought about possibly getting back into theater — I’ll consider it,” said Landry, an educator for the Sexual Assault Crisis and Support Center.

Before landing at Selah Tea, the group stopped in at Thai Bistro, to the surprise of diners and staff alike.

“Today is Shakespeare’s 450th birthday and we are celebrating by reading all 154 sonnets, so we welcome you to be part of our celebration,” Lyn Rowden announced.

Bistro owner JoJo Suriyodorn, carrying a hot platter of chicken wings, smiled and stopped to take a photo.

Earlier, in the REM forum room at The Center, Fournier Rowden explained that Shakespeare wrote some of his 154 sonnets for an earl, who paid the poet for his works. Shakespeare wrote about love and ethereal things in many of his sonnets, she explained.

“They were pretty fanciful, nice things to read,” she said, “and you could send them to your lover.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247 [email protected] Twitter: @AmyCalder17