Summer is a difficult time to be a theatre fan. Most of our favorite regional theatre companies have finished up their seasons, leaving us with only community theatre and the national tours of Broadway’s latest hits to choose from. However, there is a fun, inexpensive theatre option that is offered in most of the major cities in America: Shakespeare in the Park.
While the idea of open-air theatre is hardly new, the first Shakespeare festivals were produced in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, the birthplace of William Shakespeare, in the late 19th century. These productions of the works of Shakespeare were generally performed in the spring and summer and occasionally in replicas of the Globe Theatre in London, the theatre built by Shakespeare’s performing company in 1599.
Today, productions have moved outside to public parks and festival grounds. One of the most well known Shakespeare festivals is the Public Theatre’s Shakespeare in the Park series in New York City. At this festival, the Public Theatre offers free tickets on a "first come first seve" basis to their productions of Shakespeare’s plays as well as modern plays and musicals in Central Park. Their production of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods featuring Amy Adams, Glen Close and Jack Broderick runs until August 25.
Shakespeare in Clark Park offers great productions of the works of Shakespeare to a West Philadelphia audience for free every summer. A younger company, Shakespeare in Clark Park was formed in the fall of 2005 and has been drawing crowds of nearly 1,000 people, young and old. This year they performed The Merry Wives of Windsor, one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known comedies. The company took this light-hearted and accessible piece and set it in the old west, creating a fun night of theatre for the whole family. Unfortunately, Merry Wives closed on July 29, but if you live in the Philadelphia area, next year’s production is not to be missed.
The San Francisco Shakespeare Festival’s Free Shakespeare in the Park program takes a different approach to the concept of Shakespeare in the Park. Instead of offering several different productions in one location throughout the summer, this company chooses one of Shakespeare’s plays and performs it in various locations throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. FSP chose a modernized rendition of Henry V, Shakespeare’s tale of the rise of a young king and the glories of war, for their 30th Season. The play runs at the Memorial Amphitheatre in Cupertino, CA through August 5 and then moves on to Sequoia High School in Redwood City, CA from August 11 to August 26 and The Presido’s Main Post Parade Ground Lawn in San Francisco from September 1 to September 23.
This is just a sampling of some of the great free productions of the works of Shakespeare offered in the U.S. this summer. Free outdoor theatre is just one of the many joys of the summer, so be sure to check for a production in a city near you!