Shakespeare returns to the park
Milwaukee's groundlings have spoken with clarity and speed. They want free Shakespeare in the park at Alverno College.
Reservations for Optimist Theatre's production of "Twelfth Night" "sold out" online in 48 hours last month. About 1,400 persons claimed free chair seats for the eight performances that will be staged June 16 to 26.
However, all is not lost for those who didn't click their mouses fast enough. Joining a waiting list is likely to get you into a performance. More on that later.
Groundlings were the boisterous commoners who saw Shakespeare's plays at the Globe Theatre for a penny, standing on the ground to see the show. Optimist Theatre does better for its patrons.
You don't have to spend that penny, and you don't have to stand. For the second consecutive summer, about 200 seats will be set up in a three-sided courtyard on the Alverno College campus. Additional space is available for about 50 theatergoers on blankets and bring-your-own lawn chairs.
Optimist was a new company in town last year when it took the gutsy gamble of mounting "The Tempest" under the stars for free at Alverno. Veteran actors James Pickering and Angela Iannone led the cast in a competent and entertaining professional production.
The Wisconsin Arts Board, Milwaukee Arts Board, a fund raising event and more than $21,000 pledged on the company's website financed the project. Alverno made major in-kind donations of such necessities as rehearsal space and platforms.
"The Tempest" was so well received, Optimist co-founders Susan and Ron Scot Fry immediately began planning for this summer. Tom Reed, an actor and member of the Alverno theater faculty, is also a part of the company's leadership team.
They decided to mount "Twelfth Night," one of Shakespeare's most popular comedies, this year. Pickering was slated to play Malvolio, but family obligations caused him to drop out of the show. Todd Denning will replace him.
The Milwaukee Rep's Laura Gordon is directing a cast that includes Alison Mary Forbes (Olivia), Georgina McKee (Viola), Marcella Kearns (Maria) and Robb Smith (Orsino). Reed will play Feste and Ron Scot Fry is Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Gordon has placed the play in the early 20th century.
Company dramaturg ML Cogar, an instructor of communications at Alverno and a British literature teacher at Marquette University, has trimmed about 40 minutes out of the "Twelfth Night" text. She also did some cutting on "The Tempest" last year. "Twelfth Night's" running time will come in at about two hours.
"We're eliminating period references, obscure references, and we're trimming or cutting political references. The focus is on the characters and the story line," Cogar explained. "'Twelfth Night' is a very focused play and easy to follow."
Optimist is rotating the stage 180 degrees from its location last summer, and the comedy will be played on grass rather than a platform. The space is being configured as a thrust stage and house with the audience wrapped around three sides. Those on blankets will be able to snuggle close to two sides of the stage.
Theatergoers will again be permitted to picnic on the grounds prior to curtain time, and Alverno's food service will provide beverages and edibles. Parking is free in a nearby college garage.
Speaking of the popularity of last summer's show, Susan Scot Fry said, "We thought we would get some people who were seeing Shakespeare for the first time. We actually got some people who were seeing live theater for the first time."
Asked what they learned from their initial Shakespeare in the park experience last year, Ron Scot Fry responded, "Our focus has to be more on fund raising than filling the seats. The audience is there."
Grants from the Wisconsin Arts Board and Milwaukee Arts Board are major sources of money again this year, but the Optimist leadership knows the current state political climate imperils that in the future. The company also hopes to add another week of performances in 2012. More funders must be found.
Shakespeare in the park reservations are held until 15 minutes before curtain time. Persons can get on a performance waiting list for chair seats by registering at the Optimist box office on its website. If you don't get a seat, you will receive preference for lawn spots.
Check-in for evening performances begins at 6 p.m.
Optimist Theatre just released seats to the June 23 10am matinee and there are 51 seats available. It's the same performance as the evening shows. Get them at http://optimisttheatre.org/in_the_park/boxoffice
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