Choosing Romeo and Juliet for this year’s installment of Shakespeare in the park is all a part of a plan to make the event bigger, better and more accessible to the atypical theater crowd in Bend.
For the second year, Lay it Out Events has partnered with Bend’s Cat Call Productions to bring Portland’s Northwest Classical Theater Group (NWCTG) to town for a performance in Drake Park. Lee Perry, event director for Lay it Out Events, which is a sister company to the Source, explained that after the success of last year’s performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, bringing NWCTC back was a no brainer.
“We were blown away by the performance,” said Perry. “We had no idea what they were going to produce, but I think that everyone in Bend was blown away because they were so good.”
Director Jon Kretzu, of Artists Repertory Theater (ART), directs this year’s performance. ART is one of Portland’s leading professional theater companies, and Kretzu, who serves as associate artistic director, boasts a long and impressive resume with more than 50 plays at ART. Kretzu has worked also on big name productions in Seattle, Milwaukee, San Francisco, Chicago and Los Angeles.
Kretzu’s draws on that experience to recast Shakespeare’s tragic love story in 1860’s Italy, a tumultuous time of violence and uprising perfectly suited for the chaotic love story. Drake Park will be transformed into Old Verona, Italy, featuring opening performances by local opera musicians singing period pieces to set the mood.
Over the past few years it’s been a relative lull for more classical art forms in Bend After the demise of the long standing Cascade Festival of Music in 2008, Bendites have had less access to fine art than in the past.
“When Cascade Festival of Music went away it left a hole for high art in Bend,” said Perry. “We’ve been brainstorming for years what we could do to bring that back.”
The first step was Shakespeare. And Bend residents responded. Last year’s festival drew about 1,800 theatergoers for the inaugural event in Drake Park, according to Perry.
Innovation Theater Works Artist in Residence, Clinton Clark has high hopes that Shakespeare in the Park, paired with other recent incarnations of professional drama in the community, will make the local arts accessible to a new kind of theatergoer in Bend.
“One place the arts haven’t really thrived in Bend is theatrically,” said Clark. “We need to get people without theater experience to feel what an amazing production can be like.”
Clark has been actively involved in an effort to pique interest in the stage through a series of free performances of Shakespeare at GoodLife Brewing. A rock and roll interpretation of The Tempest is now on the road in Central Oregon, and will be performing Aug. 17 through 19 in Sisters, Redmond and Sunriver.
“Bend is in a theatrical rut, it’s like pulling teeth trying to get people to see theater here,” said Clark. “We need people in the community to be creative, but that art doesn’t exist without an audience.”
Shakespeare in the Park organizers hope that their iconic play will draw a large audience of viewers who may be intimidated by some of the Bard’s lesser known works and light a fire under those dormant theatergoers.
“This year we wanted to go with one of the classics—a story everybody knows,” said Perry.
The event isn’t only reaching out to a wider audience, but also to local actors interested in some professional feedback. On the last day of performances, the directorial staff will host a workshop for local actors where they can participate in an open-ended question and answer session with Kretzu. They’ll also be able to perform their own monologues and receive a direct critique.
“Auditioning is one of the most complicated and challenging aspects of the actor’s life,” said Kretzu. “I am here to help make it as fulfilling, pleasurable and effective as possible.”
Tifany LeGuyonne, one of the producers at Cat Call Productions, is hopeful that this workshop will bring a new level of professionalism to the local arts community and help to strengthen our small group of theater loyalists.
“Having worked in this industry in Central Oregon, it’s great to have access to professionals from outside the area,” said LeGuyonne. “Hopefully it will help to raise the bar all around in theater, that’s what we’re all trying to do.”
Photos taken by Derek Oldham
Shakespeare in the Park
Romeo and Juliet
Doors open at 5 p.m. Performances start at 6 p.m.
$20 to $75.
Tickets available at bendticket.com