A few years ago, GreenStage, the veteran theater company that puts on Shakespeare plays in parks around the city, was approached by a Sand Point resident who was having a 40th birthday party. He planned a Shakespearean theme, and was going all out, recalls GreenStage managing director Ken Holmes. The birthday boy asked his guests to dress up as if they were a character in a Shakespeare play—and to memorize one speech that the character gives. His menu included roast pheasant.
The coup de grâce, he hoped, would be a GreenStage performance. So the company set about thinking of a way to perform a Shakespeare play on what Holmes recalls as a “little-bitty recessed patio area” in the fellow’s home. What GreenStage came up with was a stripped-down, 40-minute version of Twelfth Night using only four actors.
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GreenStage realized that the pared-down production would work well in other venues as well, on occasions when the company had neither the time nor space to delve into a full play. It has since brought what you might call its Twelfth Night-lite to schools and special events. And this summer, in its new so-called Backyard Bard program, the company is poised to bring that production and a similarly pared-down version of The Merry Wives of Windsor to a host of small parks in which it has never performed—among them Cal Anderson Park on Capitol Hill, Hing Hay Park in the International District, and a commons area at Seattle Housing Authority’s High Point housing development.
What that means is that you may stumble upon a delightful Shakespearean production where you least expect it. In some sense, that has long been the case when it comes to GreenStage, now in its 25th season. The company’s July–August schedule this year features A Midsummer Night’s Dream and King Lear at a number of area parks, including Seward and Lincoln Park. If you happen upon a performance, sit down.
“There’s something about it that’s hard to define, but that’s really special,” Holmes says of the outdoor productions. And it’s true. He thinks it has to do with the informality of the setting, the absence of barriers between the actors and audience. He adds that his actors play on that, trying to engage audience members by walking among them, maybe even stealing a bit of food from a picnic.
Without elaborate sets or distractions, Holmes continues, the emphasis is simple: storytelling. Obviously it’s not at all like sitting in the park and watching the Blue Angels roar overhead. It’s better.