Free for All: Houston Shakespeare Festival, Public Poetry and Brad Thor

One of the highlights of the summer, the annual Houston Shakespeare Festival, kicks off this Friday and this year's performances are not to be missed. Guest actors Cindy Pickett (Ferris Bueller's Day Off, St. Elsewhere) and Mark Metcalf (Maestro on Seinfeld, villainous Douglas Neidermeyer in Animal House) take to the stage at Miller Outdoor Theatre to do Comedy of Errors and Hamlet. For Comedy of Errors, they and everyone else will be speaking the Bard's words in a Texas accent. This doesn't extend to the other performances in this year's offerings sponsored by the University of Houston's School of Theatre & Dance -- Hamlet will be done more traditionally, with Pickett as Gertrude and Metcalf as Claudius.

Pickett, of course, grew up in Houston, the daughter of the late UH theater professor Cecil Pickett, who was deeply involved in the annual festival, which, in fact, is dedicated to him this year. It's been awhile since Pickett has done theater and especially outdoor theater in Houston's summer. "We'll be all right if we don't pass out," she says.

Metcalf has done a lot of theater throughout the country. He doesn't relish the heat either, particularly since his costumes are in polyester and wool, but he signed up for this one, he says, because "I wanted to take one more crack at Claudius." They'll be joined by young actors, many of them from UH's theater program.

The shows, all at 8:30 p.m., alternate, with Hamlet on August 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11, and Comedy of Errors on August 4, 8, 10 and 12. 6000 Hermann Park Drive. For information, visit the festival's website or call 281-823-9103.

You can pick up a copy of Kurt Heinzelman's latest books, The Names They Found There (poetry) and Demarcations (a translation of Jean Follain's Territoires), at Saturday's Public Poetry reading. One of several poets scheduled to take the mike that afternoon, Heinzelman has been nominated several times for the Pushcart Price Anthology and is currently editor-at-large for Bat City Review. He was previously the editor of The Poetry Miscellany, an award-winning journal he co-founded. Also on Saturday's program are Amanda Auchter, the author of the 2012 Perugia Press Book Award winner The Wishing Tomb; Joseph "JoeP" Palmore, co-founder of the Black Box Theatre Group; and Jane Creighton, director of the Cultural Enrichment Center at the University of Houston-Downtown. A student from the Writers in the Schools/WITS will also read. Stick around after the reading to schmooze with the authors.

The Public Poetry reading is at 2 p.m. on Saturday at McGovern-Stella Link Neighborhood Library, 7405 Stella Link. For information, visit the Public Poetry website.

Expect a thrilling time at author Brad Thor's reading/signing session on Sunday. The #1 New York Times bestselling writer will be discussing his newest release, Black List. A provocative suspense novel, Black List is the story of Scot Harvath, a counterterrorism operative whose name has just been added to "the list." You know, the secret list of names that only the President and a few of his advisers ever get to see? The list of all the people the United States government has marked for death? Unfortunately for Scot, there's only one way to get your name off the list -- you have to die.

Meet Brad Thor at 2 p.m. on Sunday at Murder by the Book, 2342 Bissonnet. For information, visit the bookstore's website or call 713-524-8597.

Margaret Downing contributed to this post.

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