Dayton’s Free Shakespeare! not exactly much ado about nothing
By Brian P. Sharp
Shakespeare for free is nothing new in the theatre community, but it is still fairly new to Dayton. The concept of free theatre, readings or even full performances, is many times an avenue in which actors and directors can perfect and enjoy their craft while enjoying audience reactions from people who may or may not be the usual arts patrons. These Shakespeare performances become almost educational in nature, exposing the community (some seasoned arts patrons and others that may have never been exposed to Shakespeare) to some of the origins of the words we speak today.
This community has seen free Shakespeare done in neighborhood groups just outside of downtown and last year saw it in Courthouse Square. Shakespeare for the masses, right? But will the masses come? That question doesn’t seem to bother Chris Shea, the founder of Free Shakespeare!, a non-profit theatre company devoted to presenting complimentary performances of the works of William Shakespeare, now in its second year.
Free Shakespeare! nearly brings the show to you. Their performances take place throughout the Miami Valley. This task could almost seem daunting, but not to Shea. Imagine the costumes, the sets, the lights, the sound, but that’s not exactly how this works. These performances allow the audience to hear the works, engage with the actors and let imagination take care of the rest.
There are no sets, no amplification, no lights, and no full costumes … but costumes and characterization is implied. In fact, costumes for these shows are being enhanced by the talented Carol Finley. Costume pieces and character names are added to each character to help the audience form a better understanding of the performance.
Shea is passionate about this work. He is a graduate of Fairmont High School and the Pacific Conservatory for Performing Arts. He is definitely no stranger to the stage in the Dayton area. Shea has been seen on the stage at the Dayton Playhouse, Dayton Theatre Guild, Beavercreek Community Theatre and Kettering Theatre Under the Stars as well as the Rising Phoenix Theatre Company in Middletown. Additionally, Shea did some work with the Human Race Theatre Company and Zoot Theatre Company. He believes that everyone is his audience. Everyone deserves to experience the works of William Shakespeare. This way everyone can try it without risk. It is free after all …
Inspiration for Free Shakespeare! stemmed from Shea’s work with Seattle-based GreenStage, a theatre company that has performed in parks for over 20 years.
“The experience with GreenStage was incredible,” said Shea. “To have a free arts program not only survive, but flourish for over 20 years, well, it gave me faith that the arts are alive and well. I want to bring that same energy here to Dayton. There really is nothing like a picnic, and a play and the price is right, too.”
The organization will always have a summer program at the heart of its mission. However, there are plans in motion for other opportunities to bring the works to the masses throughout the year.
Shakespeare is written in verse and contains the origins of terms like “elbow room.” These summer outdoor performances take the works of William Shakespeare out of the original confines of the traditional theatre.
This year, the group will present one of Shakespeare’s best loved comedies, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The performances will take place at the Antioch University Amphitheater, Wegerzyn Gardens MetroPark, Newcom Founders Park and the University of Dayton’s ArtStreet Amphitheater.
This year’s productions feature: Allison Husko, Will Hutchenson, Amy Brooks, Kes-lina Luomo, Jason Antonick, Zach Schute, David Harewood, Chris Shea, Travis Cook, Megan Cooper, Bill Styles, Lauren Deaton, Juliet Howard-Welch and Phil Titlebaum.
Free Shakespeare! dates and locations are:
• Yellow Springs Antioch University Ampitheater: July 22-24 at 7 p.m.
• Wegerzyn Gardens MetroPark: July 29-31 at 7 p.m.
• Oregon District Newcom Founders Park: August 5-7 at 7 p.m.
• University of Dayton ArtStreet Ampitheater: August 12-14 at 7 p.m.
For more information about Free Shakespeare! visit www.freeshakespeare.com and www.facebook.com/spreadthewords.
You have nothing to lose … it’s Free Shakespeare! on a midsummer night.
Reach DCP theatre critic Brian P. Sharp at Theatre@DaytonCityPaper.com.