Two Milwaukee theater groups offering free outdoor Shakespeare performances
After a hiatus of over a year, the live summer theater is back.
Two local theater groups offer free outdoor Shakespeare performances in the Milwaukee area at various parks.
Summit Players Theater, a traveling non-profit company, will perform an abbreviated version of “The Winter’s Tale”. Optimist Theater, otherwise known as Shakespeare in the Park, will present “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.
Both coins convey a sense of optimism after a pandemic year filled with difficulties.
“We all survived on crumbs of Zoom readings,” said AJ Magoon, executive director of the Summit Players Theater.
Actors and production teams are ready to get back into action.
“We are happy and relieved to join the ranks of our colleagues in bringing live theater back to an audience that craves love, connection and laughter,” said Susan Scot Fry, Executive Director of The Optimist Theater.
Here’s what you can expect from these summer productions:
‘The Winter’s Tale’: Summit Players Theater
A warm breeze, the beautiful nature of Wisconsin around you, a possible picnic for two and a short play. What could be better?
Heading to 24 different state parks in Wisconsin, the Summit Players Theater will provide the audience with an abridged 75-minute version of Shakespeare’s “Winter’s Tale.”
Performances started June 12 at Richard Bong State Recreation Area in Kenosha. They will continue until August. Entrance to the park is compulsory but the performances are free.
Caroline Norton, Director of Education and Summit actress, said “The Winter’s Tale” is unique in that it does not fit into any of Shakespeare’s typical genres, which include comedy, tragedy and history.
The play centers on King Léonte, mad for power. When he suspects his wife of cheating, he sends her behind bars, where she gives birth to a baby girl. The furious Leontes sends the newborn baby to the desert. From there the story unfolds, taking a more uplifting and comedic turn.
Norton said the show teaches us to embrace love and let go of hate.
“Even though it was written over 450 years ago, it still says a lot about what’s going on in our current society and the lessons we still need to learn and take to heart. It’s a very good show at the moment, ”she said.
Before the show, the public can attend a 45-minute workshop that allows them to immerse themselves in the characters and the plot. You’ll learn a bit more about Shakespeare, break down each character, walk through the plot, learn how Shakespeare’s language works, and perform a scene from the show.
This is the first year that Summit Players Theater has offered a show-specific workshop. Members of the public of all ages are welcome to attend the free hands-on workshop.
“Even if you already know Shakespeare a little bit, you still have the opportunity to have fun and let go of your inhibitions,” Magoon said.
In “The Winter’s Tale,” Norton plays Perdita, daughter of King Leontes, as well as the Shepherd Boy and various other roles.
She is not the only one to play several different roles. Most actors balance around four to five roles. To avoid confusion, they present them to you before starting the show.
The company’s loud acting grabs you and takes you on the show’s journey. Original medieval inspired live music is also performed by the cast members throughout the show. It’s a little surprise that will make the audience smile.
Members of the public should also expect to participate, resounding noises of wind, cheers or birdsong when cue cards appear.
Before attending a Summit show, consider packing sunscreen or bug spray, a chair or blanket, and maybe even a picnic basket and a bottle of wine, Magoon said. If it rains, he said, bring an umbrella.
Most importantly, the theater will not turn anyone away. So if you just want to linger for a few minutes and continue with a hike in the park, that’s okay.
For more information on times and places of performance, visit the Summit Players Theater website.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream”: Optimist Theater
Readers may recognize Optimist Theater by its colloquial name Shakespeare in the Park. In recent years, the company has performed at the Peck Pavilion outside the Marcus Performing Arts Center, but Optimist is taking a new approach to reach a wider audience in 2021.
This year’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” will travel to several locations around Milwaukee, including Alverno College, Sherman Park, Humboldt Park and more.
In addition, Optimist is cutting production for the first time. Instead of a full show, audiences can expect a total running time of 60-75 minutes.
Performances of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” begin July 24 and run over six weekends, with 12 morning performances across town. Free entry.
A new mix of venues gives the theater company a chance to reach neighborhoods that otherwise wouldn’t have a huge artistic presence, Fry said.
Tours have always been on their minds, but the limits of the COVID-19 pandemic have made that dream come true.
When live shows weren’t an option, Optimist set to work finding what he could do to give audiences a taste of the theater. Ultimately, Zoom recordings of live performances – which became popular among theater companies amid the pandemic – just weren’t for them. Instead, they decided to film a Shakespeare play with a small cast and crew, breaking it up into separate episodes that air online. They called it “No Holds Bard”.
“It got us to all of those neighborhoods, which was another inspiration to tour and still bring out Shakespeare,” Fry said.
This year, Optimist will also be filming their production of “Midsummer” to bring the show to audiences online, although it won’t air until around November, Fry said.
She describes “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” as a light physical comedy about running in the woods on a summer night. It follows the story of four lovers who find themselves bewitched by fairies. Fry pointed out that the play is family-friendly.
“Because we’re touring the neighborhoods of Milwaukee… we wanted to come up with something that will appeal to absolutely everyone. ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ has the greatest chance of doing it, ”she said.
If you are intimidated by Shakespeare, they are there for you.
Before the play, said Fry, Optimist will set up a conversation with the audience to tune in to Shakespeare’s language.
Fry reminded the audience to bring a chair, blanket, sunscreen and bug spray. She expects an array of around 25-200 people at each performance, so she urges people to come early if they want a good seat.
“I can’t wait to go out and have people say, ‘Alright! Wow. I’m glad I went to the theater. I’m glad I gave Shakespeare a chance, ”she said.
For more information on the locations and times of performances of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, visit the Optimist Theater website.