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Shakespeare with an MTV twist

KBYU is the last place you'd expect to find programming inspired by MTV. And yet, "Shakes: Rattle and Role" (tonight at 9 on Ch. 11) is clearly influenced by two of the cable channel's more popular programs - "The Real World" and "Road Rules."

In the case of "Shakes," it's not seven people chosen to live in a house and have their lives taped - it's 10 actors and one stage manager chosen to spend 11 weeks traveling around in a van and put on 78 performances of "Hamlet" in three states. And have their lives taped.In other words, this bunch is even crazier than the spacey kids on MTV.

And there are times when the actors act far more strangely. Watching them prepare for a performance gives clear evidence that actors are not like normal people.

The group is sponsored by the Utah Shakespearean Festival. The 11 people gathered in Cedar City in late January for 10 days of rehearsals before heading out on the road.

And it quickly becomes obvious that they were doing this out of love for acting, love for Shakespeare and a sense of mission - not only because they tell us so, but because they're not getting paid much and the conditions are far from ideal.

Doug Scholz-Carlson, who played the title role in "Hamlet," said he took the job "to make a difference - to show kids that everything doesn't have to be simple and easy to understand, to show them that there are things that are complicated that are worth going after."

And director Gary Armagnac does a fine job of not only catching the feelings of the actors but goes out and interviews members of the audience as well.

(You've got to love it when a teenage boy tries to explain the plot of "Hamlet" in a style that's all his own.)

"Shakes" is shot very much in the style of "The Real World" - hand-held video cameras follow the actors around from the beginning of this experience until the end. They're seen getting picked up at the airport, bidding each other farewell and seemingly everywhere along the way.

We see them in the van. We see them in their motels. We see them in fast-food restaurants.

We see them on stage, with several segments of their performance of "Hamlet" making it into the hour.

And, like "Real World" and "Road Rules," they're interviewed about their feelings and hopes and dreams and ambitions. Sometimes they come off as funny, sometimes sad, sometimes heartfelt, sometimes full of themselves.

The video and editing style is almost amateurish, with bouncing cameras and in-your-face style, along with quick-cut editing and music blaring in the background. And that's not criticism - it works quite well here.

As does this hour. Armagnac and executive producer Sterling Van Wagenen have produced a program that is both fun to watch and informative - giving us an inside look at a group of people experiencing something most of us never will.