This weekend my son saw his second Shakespeare production. He is one year old. Despite my personal beliefs, I do not have some sort of miracle baby that can sit through a two-three hour production at the theatre. He loves to babble and smile at people and generally charm those around him. Adorable, but not exactly conducive to a pleasant theatre experience. Fortunately, the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company offers Free Shakespeare in the Park every summer. It is the perfect way for audiences of all walks of life to come together in a fun, relaxed environment and enjoy Shakespeare. I believe similar programs are available in cities across the U.S, but if I had my way, Shakespeare would be free in some way in every city, and here’s why:
Going to the theatre is a worthwhile experience, if you can afford it. Oftentimes, that is a big if. Tickets alone cost anywhere from $50 to over $100. If you’re trying to go on a date, you’ll need multiple tickets. Then, we start looking at indirect costs. We’ll assume you’re trying to spend as little money as possible, so we won’t calculate the cost of dinner or drinks. However, you need to get to the theatre and that is going to cost at least a little money whether it’s parking or paying for alternative transport. Finally, if you have kids, you’ll need a babysitter, who will need to be paid. In total, it can be quite an expensive evening. The cost will be prohibitive for some, but does that mean they shouldn’t be able to experience Shakespeare?
Of course not! That’s where amazing programs, such as Free Shakespeare in the Park comes in. Now, the only cost associated is getting there and maybe paying for entrance to the park. Plus, if your lucky, the park is close by and one you already go to frequently. This makes the potential cost almost negligible. And just like that anyone who wants to experience Shakespeare can in a warm, welcoming environment.
Even if you do have the funds to attend the theatre, maybe a night sitting through a Shakespeare play in a dark theatre is not what you want to spend your money on. Shakespeare can be a challenge and it’s understandable why it doesn’t sound like an ideal evening. But, if you have the opportunity to sit outside and enjoy a beautiful evening watching a condensed version of the play, that might entice you to give Shakespeare a try.
That is exactly the atmosphere set up with Free Shakespeare in the Park. There’s less pressure. It doesn’t feel like you’re going to the Theatre (said with a fancy accent). You’re going to see a show. It’s fun. It’s entertaining. You can kick back on a blanket or lawn chair and just enjoy the show. It’s Shakespeare as it’s supposed to be.
As I said before, we took my infant son to two different Shakespeare in the Park productions. First, we saw Romeo and Juliet. Then, we saw A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He babbled a little bit. While it felt super loud when he was on my lap, it actually wasn’t disruptive. Once he was on my husband’s lap, I could hardly hear him. Some of our fellow playgoers even commented on how well behaved he was. It made me feel better about bringing him.
My son was probably the youngest, but definitely not the only child there. This is a perfect way to introduce children to Shakespeare and theatre in general. They can fidget, stand, sit, and ask questions. They can behave in ways that would be inappropriate in a traditional theatre setting. It’s a great family outing.
It’s fun for the acting company and the audience!
I have seen a few different productions through this program with the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. Each time, it’s evident that the actors are having a blast and approaching the production in unique ways. The newer members of the company have a way to stretch their legs and take some risks. It’s a more relaxed atmosphere for them as well.
I’ve seen some excellent and unique productions at the park. Merry Wives of Windsor embraced the ridiculous, slapstick nature of the story. In Romeo & Juliet, they tugged at the heartstrings by having Juliet wake up just before Romeo died, so the lovers saw each other one last time. The fairies in Midsummer rapped and had a general hip-hop theme. There were also quite a few ad-libbed lines that enhanced the comedic nature of the production. One of my favorite moments was Puck saying “Oh, snap” when she realized that Titania fell in love with Bottom. All of these touches made the production better than expected.
Free Shakespeare in the Park productions make Shakespeare accessible to a wide variety of people in more ways than through cost.