The Spokane Shakespeare Society is gearing up for the first of two Shakespeare in the Park productions this summer, Romeo and Juliet.
The company will perform the classic tale of star-crossed lovers Thursdays through Sundays through July 31. All but two performances will be at the Lilac Bowl; the others will be at the Pavilion. The shows are free to the public but donations are encouraged.
Director Jeff Phillips Christiansen said the company was founded in 2021, with the goal of making Shakespearean classics accessible to the public.
“A lot of people have this impression of Shakespeare, that it’s something that they wouldn’t like because they have a bad experience in high school, or they’ve seen productions of Shakespeare and it’s just horribly boring,” Phillips Christiansen said. “And what I love about doing Shakespeare is showing people a different way of doing Shakespeare, something that’s much easier to understand, something that’s much more approachable and maybe igniting in people the passion that I’ve cultivated over the years.”
Phillips Christiansen said he has always had a soft spot in his heart for “Romeo and Juliet,” as it was the first production he performed in when he started his professional career in Portland in 2014.
“I’ve always thought that ‘Romeo and Juliet’ was just a pretty exceptional example of a Shakespearean tragedy,” Phillips Christiansen said.
This will be the longtime Shakespearean actor’s first time directing, and he is putting his own creative spin on the play. Phillips Christiansen said the show is using masks and puppetry for the play’s peripheral characters, inspired by the traditional commedia dell’arte style.
“Those masks and puppets exist to kind of underscore the two factions that this play takes part of,” Phillips Christiansen said. “So the younger generation and then the older generation, or authority figures. We use those elements as storytelling tools.”
Phillips Christiansen said having the performance outdoors aids in cultivating a sense of community for the audience and the Spokane Shakespeare company. He likes seeing folks who wander across the show while in the park stop to enjoy it.
“Shakespeare has always attracted me as a challenge as an actor, from working with the poetry and the rhythm of the language, to the words and learning what the words mean, because language has changed so much in the last 400 years,” Phillips Christiansen.
In the coming years, Phillips Christiansen said he hopes the company continues to grow and put on more and more productions. After “Romeo and Juliet” comes to a close, the Spokane Shakespeare Society will start preparing for their second production of the summer, the comedy “Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning, Juliet).” Written by Ann-Marie McDonald, the comedy is a re-envisioning of two Shakespearean classics, “Othello” and “Romeo and Juliet.” Auditions will be held in late July, and more information can be found on the society’s website.
This will be cast member Carrie Bostick’s second year with the company. She will be playing Benvolio, Romeo’s level-headed cousin, in addition to playing some minor characters while masked.
Almost every cast member has multiple roles, keeping with the minimalist design Phillips Christiansen is approaching the production with.
Bostick first fell in love with theater when she had a minor role in a middle school production of the musical “Mame.” She recalls uttering her first line and getting a rush of adrenaline, and said she has loved performing ever since.
Bostick said it sometimes feels like time stands still while she’s performing, and she can see all the necessary elements coming together in order for the show to go smoothly.
She said not every outdoor show comes together smoothly, but she loves that element of surprise.
“Because you’re in a park where anybody can walk by, anything can happen,” Bostick said. “Sometimes you’ve got lovely geese in the background, or people sometimes roll through on their scooters, and then stop to watch for a few moments. You just never know what’s going to come through.”
Bostick is excited to help bring “Romeo and Juliet” to life for the Spokane community. She said the story really comes to life when it is performed.
“I think a lot of people feel like it’s unapproachable, or they’re used to kind of slow Shakespeare, but it’s meant to be watched” Bostick said. “It’s a lot harder when you’re looking at the text and kind of painting the picture in your mind of where you think it’s gonna go. But once you’re watching it, it really can sing, it really can come alive.”