The St. Croix ArtBarn will not be the only company in the St. Croix Valley to perform Shakespeare under the stars this summer. On Saturday, July 27, Summit Players Theater is rolling into town to put on “Romeo and Juliet” at Interstate Park. The traveling troupe, which celebrates its fifth season this year, is dabbling in tragedy for the first time after previous runs of comedies such as “Twelfth Night,” and is hitting a longer list of state parks than ever before to commemorate this milestone.
“This show may be different from the comedies we’ve done before, but we’re offering audiences the same Summit Players experience they’ve come to know and love,” SPT founder and Executive Director Hannah Klapperich-Mueller said.
SPT aims to present Shakespeare’s work in an easy-to-understand, accessible manner.
“We cut the script of “Romeo and Juliet” down to [a] 75-minute adaptation… removing a lot of the extended metaphors and outdated bits of humor,” SPT’s Managing Director, A.J. Magoon, said. “It’s all Shakespeare’s words, there’s just less of them.”
This, he says, makes the experience more fun and accessible for all attendees, regardless of their age or level of familiarity with Shakespeare. In addition, the performance will be preceded by an optional 45-minute interactive education optional 45-minute interactive educational workshop, “Playing with Shakespeare: Get Outside with Will.”
“The workshop is focused on learning more about who Shakespeare was, what he wrote and why he wrote in the style he did,” Magoon said. “We do a ‘Shakespeare Character Walk,’ where participants use their bodies and their movements to act out emotions, weather conditions and Shakespearean characters... At the end of the workshop, everyone gets a chance to act out a piece of Shakespearean text as well, meaning that they leave the workshop having been real Shakespearean actors.”
The outdoor aspect of SPT’s mission must also not be understated. At the original Globe Theatre in London, where Shakespeare’s plays were first performed, much of the stage was without a roof, and set design was simple.
“Because of this, Shakespeare’s plays are filled with language that describes nature so that his audiences could imagine where the action was taking place. Putting such beautiful, descriptive nature language in an actual outdoor setting allows the two to work together,” Magoon said. In addition to that, Shakespeare’s plays cover some really innate, important human themes like life, death, true love, personal identity and what it means to be human. I think that setting these shows in an outdoor setting enhances these themes - there’s something about being out in nature that really helps us think about our place in the world, which is what Shakespeare’s characters are doing constantly.”
Despite Romeo and Juliet’s gloomy ending, there is still family-friendly humor to be found, and the performance is aimed at theatregoers of all ages.
“A lot of people think ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is a tragedy all the way through, but it really isn’t,” actor Jackson Hoemann, who plays Benvolio, Lord Capulet and Friar Laurence, said. “For the first few acts, it’s a pretty funny and sweet romantic comedy. It’s got its dark moments later in the play, but it’s definitely not as violent as some of Shakespeare’s other plays.”
The performance is free of charge. The “Playing with Shakespeare” workshop begins at Interstate Park at 5:30 p.m. on July 27, while the play itself starts at 7.
“People tend to shy away from Shakespeare because they are worried they won’t understand it or they think it’s too high-brow,” Caroline Norton, who plays eight different characters in “Romeo and Juliet,” said. “Something I have learned by working with Summit is that Shakespeare is nothing if not accessible. We are still telling his stories over 400 years after his death because the messages they contain are still so relevant.”
Summit Players Theatre will perform “Romeo and Juliet” July 27 at Interstate Park. The performance is free of charge. The “Playing with Shakespeare” workshop begins at 5:30 p.m. The play starts at 7 p.m.