By Kristi Niemeyer
When Shakespeare in the Parks rolls into Charlo, the community sets aside the hard work of summer – growing gardens, setting pipes, mowing alfalfa – and shows up in Palmer Park. There, shaded by weeping willows with a canal murmuring by, we share picnics and Shakespeare.
I’m always a little lost for the first 10 minutes. What are those costumed characters talking about in a language that’s almost, but not quite our own? But pretty soon, I slip into the story and remember again how Shakespeare’s words still penetrate our world.
“What’s in a name?” asks Juliet of Romeo. “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell so sweet.”
This summer, Montana Shakespeare in the Parks brings “As You Like It” and “Romeo and Juliet” to 61 towns – mostly in Montana, but also dipping into Wyoming, North Dakota, Idaho and Washington. As always, the productions are free.
A team of 10 professional actors, selected by national audition, loads a trailer with stage, set and costumes, piles into a van, and hits the road.
The company’s new artistic director, Kevin Asselin, has a rich history with MSIP as tour actor, educator, fight choreographer and director. He set “As You Like It” in 1917 Butte, where the resplendent, urbane world of the Copper Kings is contrasted with the healing, natural world of the Montanan wilderness.
Veteran actor and director William Dickerson brings “Romeo and Juliet” to the stage. The timeless romance is replete with epic sword fighting, choreographed by Asselin, and original a cappella music created by Philadelphia-based composer Davis Good.
Claudia Boddy, the troupe’s resident costume designer, created costumes for both productions, while MSIP resident set designer and technical director Tom Watson crafted the sets, “tailoring the designs to travel, and to withstand capricious Rocky Mountain weather.”
To let the language and passion of Shakespeare infiltrate your summer, check our calendar, or visit www.shakespeareintheparks.org to find a performance nearby.
Montana Shakespeare Company also offers the Bard’s work, with “Much Ado About Nothing” opening July 17 at the Great Northern Amphitheatre in Helena. The company’s production of “The Lion in Winter,” written by James Goldman, opens July 10, and both continue through mid-August.
Kim DeLong, the company’s co-founder and artistic director, directs “Much Ado” – one of Shakespeare’s “liveliest and wittiest comedies” – and stars as King Henry II in “Lion,” a play “loaded with verbal pyrotechnics.”
It’s a pleasure, he says, to bring the Bard outdoors: “We like to imitate Shakespeare, and the Great Northern Amphitheatre gives us a venue to create that.”
For more information, visit montanashakespeare.org.