By Alice Baghdjian
LONDON (Reuters) - Tourists and shoppers in London's bustling Covent Garden fell silent and grappled for their cameras as one man sang lines from Shakespeare's "The Tempest" and a flash mob of wig-wearing actors boogied to pop songs before melting into the crowd.
Over in minutes, the "Shakespeare pop-up" is one of a series taking place on London's streets this week, as actors ambush the public, giving personalized one-to-one performances of some of the Bard's most famous passages to mark the start of the Paralympic Games on Wednesday.
Classic characters such as Puck, Hamlet, Cleopatra and Juliet, along with more modern flash mob stunts, will be played by a cast of 50 performers that includes deaf and disabled actors.
"A lot of the actors we're using are not actors, unfortunately, that you will see at the Globe or the Royal Shakespeare Company," said actor Mark Rylance, who created the event.
"They have a much more unique and individual approach with the stuff," he said, describing the performance of Hamlet's "to be or not to be" soliloquy by one actor with Down's Syndrome as "phenomenal".
"Talking from memory, because of his syndrome, it takes an enormous amount of concentration for him to speak the words, so it appears that he is digging it from so deep inside to share it with you," Rylance said.
Shakespeare, Britain's greatest cultural export, featured prominently in the opening and closing ceremonies of the London Olympic Games and the city has now shifted its focus to the Paralympics.
"We've certainly tried to mirror (the Paralympics) in the range of abilities of people involved," said actor Jonathan Moore, who directed the performances for the London 2012 Festival.
"I think it's completely congruent with Shakespeare's all-embracing humanity, the fact that he can speak to everybody not just in terms of different cultures, in terms of different intellectual ability, but in terms of every ability," Moore said.
A record 2.4 million tickets have already been sold for the London Paralympics, overtaking the previous record set four years ago in Beijing by 600,000.
The success of Britain's Olympic athletes, who won the most gold medals of any British team since 1908, is thought to have boosted ticket sales.
(Reporting by Alice Baghdjian)