August 8, 2009 in City, News
Shakespeare, al fresco
To rain, or not to rain.
Lucky for the small crowd assembled for a little “Shakespeare on the Green” Saturday afternoon outside Gonzaga Preparatory School, Mother Nature decided not.
Decked out in a raincoat and large-brimmed hat, Liz Bourdon was ready regardless of the weather. She came to watch – from the comfort of her lawn chair – William Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew,” presented by a troupe of Gonzaga University students calling themselves the Way Off Broadway Theatre Group.
The outdoor production of the classic comedy was the brainchild of the Rev. Kevin Connell, Gonzaga Prep principal, who has about 40 productions of 23 of Shakespeare’s plays under his belt as actor, director and producer.
For a long time he wanted to bring to Spokane what many cities have already had – authentic, free and informal outdoor theater.
“It’s very close to the way this would have been done in Shakespeare’s time,” said Connell, a Jesuit priest. “It’s outside. It’s very simple staging.”
The stage was a flat spot in the grass in a natural amphitheater near the entrance to G-Prep’s theater. The audience spread out on blankets, kicked off their shoes, and enjoyed the overcast day. Some brought umbrellas just in case.
Stage props were few and far between. There were a few empty Busch light beer cans for the wild Tranio, servant to Lucentio, one of many suitors wooing the shrew’s sister, Bianca, in the comedy.
The costumes were modern, with actors in clothes fitting their characters. Jacob Moore, who plays Lucentio, a character who has just gone off to college, burst onto the grass for the opening act wearing a black T-shirt with the word “College” across the front, patterned after the shirt worn by John Belushi in “Animal House.”
Stage left was an apple tree.
With no sound system or lighting, the actors relied solely on basic acting skills, and pulled it off with mastery.
In addition to threatening weather, the actors also had to contend with jetliners roaring overhead and loud car stereos thumping from the nearby street; not exactly the conditions Shakespeare might have encountered in his time.
“When you are outside you have to project more, almost to a ridiculous amount,” said Moore, 22, a Gonzaga math major.
Despite the complexity of the language, the crowd didn’t miss a thing as the hilarity and confusion unfolded. Because there was no backstage, actors ran up and down the grassy hill among the audience.
“This way it feels more like you are a part of what’s going on,” said Bourdon, of Spokane. Bourdon said she attended an outdoor production of “Twelfth Night” in Vancouver, Wash., a few years ago. She read about Saturday’s free production in the newspaper.
“I hope Spokane can support more of something like this,” Bourdon said. “Entertainment has gotten so expensive.”