When you hear the name William Shakespeare, what images come to mind? Scenes from the last production you attended? Or are they imaginings of performances in Britain, centuries ago when only men were allowed to be actors?
I am immediately transported back to 1970. I was a freshman on my first school trip to the American Shakespeare Theater in Stratford, Connecticut – on the water! As the bus began its approach to the theater, knights rode atop Percheron draft horses (if you’ve ever been to a medieval festival, often the jousters are riding this breed), carrying pennants. Women, in dress similar to what ladies of the court would wear, walked in pairs, young children, also dressed for the time period, darting hither and thither … it was a magical sight! But the magic of this theater had only just begun.
On this trip the play was “The Tempest.” The scene of the shipwreck is forever etched in my memory. The swirling mists, the ship was grand and quite large for the space, the sound effects of thunder and lightning, wind … it was to die for. And that, I thought on the bus ride home, is the way you do it. This is how you introduce people to Shakespeare. Take them to a production so fine, so grand, with superb actors in the roles of the great characters from Prospero and Hamlet to Lady MacBeth and Ophelia to Richard I and Puck … far too many to list. To slightly change up this bit of dialogue by Prospero in “The Tempest,” Shakespeare is the stuff as dreams are made on.
The theater opened in the mid-1950s and many a famous thespian graced this theater’s stage including Roddy McDowall, Katharine Hepburn and Christopher Walken, Ed Asner ... If you visit its Facebook page, there’s a great photo of Walken as Hamlet in the early 1980s.
I went to the theater in Stratford all four years of high school and found further enchantment through “As You Like It,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and “Twelfth Night.”
I’d be willing to bet, and I’m not a gambling person, that every day, on a stage or in a park somewhere in the world, a performance of one of The Bard’s 37 plays is being performed. What I would absolutely love is to see a performance at The Royal Shakespeare Theater, Stratford on Avon and another by the Kenneth Branagh Theater Company. Branagh has to be, without doubt, a master Shakespearean actor, certainly the best of his generation. Oh my, my! The Lincoln Theater in Damariscotta has screened some of his productions – close as some of us can get … for now, anyway.
The Chocolate Church is one of the stages in the world where the curtain will be going up on Shakespeare’s oft done play “Macbeth” in early June.
The Theater at Monmouth is, hands down, one of the best places in Maine I have seen Shakespeare performed. Actually everything is exceptionally done there. This season, the thespians at Monmouth are presenting “King Lear” and “Twelfth Night.” If you’ve never experienced this intimate theater – do so. Make it this year.
At the Portland Stage Company, the High School Shakespeare Conservatory will present “As You Like It,” as part of its summer theater camp July 23-27. Last weekend, its teen Shakespeare Teen Company presented “Macbeth.” Lots of great opportunities at this Portland theater landmark for youth to learn about fine writing and acting.
This summer don’t miss the Camden Shakespeare Festival – this year it’s “Twelfth Night” and “Othello” late July through Aug. 12! The Bath Shakespeare Festival opens July 13 with … “Much Ado About Nothing,” in Library Park. All shows are at 6 p.m. I might just see you there this year.
The Portland Actors Ensemble/Shakespeare in the Parks will present “Romeo and Juliet” in July.
Keep a watchful eye out for Shakespearean fare being offered this summer, because when it comes to Shakespeare ... what’s not to love?