It will still be Drake Park and Riverside Boulevard will still wrap around the edges, but with the Deschutes lazily snaking through Mirror Pond and the pines towering over the stage, things will feel very much like a fairyland William Shakespeare set out to create almost 500 years ago. OK, so that last sentence wasn't as magical as any of the lines found within A Midsummer Night's Dream, one of the Bard's most popular plays, but this weekend Drake Park will definitely take on a different feeling with the first-ever outdoor Shakespeare in the Park event.
With two evening shows on Friday and Saturday night and another matinee performance on Saturday afternoon, Shakespeare in the Park also includes acting workshops and teasers from community theater groups, but the focus is on the creative interpretation of A Midsummer's Night Dream by the Northwest Classical Theatre Company. The acting troupe is based in Portland and includes a number of Shakespeare's plays in their repertoire, and when Tifany LeGuyonne, whose Cat Call Productions is working with Source sister company Lay It Out Events to put on this weekend festival, heard they could do Midsummer's, she knew she'd found the play for the first year of the event.
"It's one of the most well-known Shakespeare plays. It's a comedy, which we like the idea of, and it seems like the perfect fit for the inaugural year of this," says LeGuyonne over the phone as she's picking out costumes for Cat Call's upcoming production of Chicago.
This venture into the world of Shakespearian productions is hardly unique to Bend. In fact, these productions, especially outdoor ones, have become somewhat popular in Oregon. Ashland is, as many know, internationally known for its Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Portland is also home to Shakespeare plays presented in outdoor parks. With a lively theater community and no shortage of beauty in Drake Park, LeGuyonne and the other organizers thought Bend would support a festival like this.
While they've chosen a well-known play, it happens to be one with more than just a bit of room for interpretation. This is a play that's whimsical, dreamy milieu leaves plenty of creative room with which the director and actors can run wild as they tell the story of Theseus (the duke of Athens) and his marriage to Amazonian queen Hippolyta. Adding to the absurdity are plenty of fairies and a lackluster acting group (it's a play within a play) that add a delightful yet sometimes chaotic feel to the production. In the past, performances of this Shakespeare comedy have included everything from a version of Puck, the trickster fairy that flies about the stage, to productions with ornate woodland sets. To produce "The Dream," as Shakespearians call the play, the Northwest Classical Theatre Company's artistic director, Grant Turner, decided to set aside flashy stagecraft or costumes for Shakespeare in the Park.
"I knew I wasn't going to have the use of stage pyrotechnics to bring the fairy world to life. So I went in the opposite direction and let Shakespeare's own words do the work for me," says Turner, who has been with NWCTC since its inception in 1998 and has directed other Shakespeare classics like The Merchant of Venice and Henry IV.
Rather than clothe his actors in the tunics and robes often found in such productions, Turner has decided to dress the cast in Elizabethan costumes, which Turner says create an easily discernable distinction between reality and the fairy world.
"Having stripped the fairies of ornamentation, keeping them simple, yet elegant, almost contemporary, we decided to make the world of the lovers and the laborers more colorful and distinct," says Turner, who has plenty of confidence in his experienced cast to deliver the Bard's masterful lines.
LeGuyonne says that the production will make use of the naturally wooded environment found in Drake Park - which, with a little imagination, isn't too hard to picture as the woods found in the play itself - and will also benefit from additional live trees and plants that will be added to the scene. But she says the play most benefits from the existing park stage that creates a natural, organic environment.
Additionally, the two-day, three-performance event will give local actors a chance to study Shakespearian techniques at three different workshops, while also giving Bend-area theater groups a chance to perform scenes from different plays before each show. In all, LeGuyonne sees Shakespeare in the Park as a way to introduce (or reintroduce) our community to some of the great works in all of literature and theater.
"It gives people the opportunity to see what local theater is capable of. It's really magical," she says.
Shakespeare in the Park: A Midsummer Night's Dream
6pm Friday and 1pm, 6pm Saturday, August 26 and 27. Drake Park, downtown Bend. $20-$75. Tickets at Bendticket.com.