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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Shakespeare in the Park returns to locations around Spokane

Preston Loomer, left, and David Hardie perform as the title characters in “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” in Manito Park Friday as part of the Spokane Shakespeare Society production. The same troupe of actors will also be alternating this Tom Stoppard play with the original “Hamlet” during multiple performances around Spokane in the coming days.  (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

The Spokane Shakespeare Society is bringing iambic pentameter back to parks.

Manito, Riverfront and Sky Prairie parks will rotate hosting two productions, which switch off nights this weekend and next.

Executive director Amanda Cantrell organized this year’s shows: William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” and “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead,” by Tom Stoppard.

The latter work is a continuation of the story of Hamlet, Cantrell explained.

Stoppard was a theater critic who used Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to critique Hamlet and point out the simultaneous genius and absurdity of Shakespeare. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are messengers who are actually side characters in Hamlet but become the main characters in their own show.

The shows will rotate nights, so Saturday will be “Hamlet” while Sunday will be Rosencrantz and Guildenstern this week.

While the shows have the same characters, they are very different.

Preston Loomer plays Guildenstern. He said that while “Hamlet” is written in Shakespeare’s signature iambic pentameter, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is written mostly in prose.

The productions are also separated by the different themes they tackle and the nature of their plots.

“ ‘Hamlet,’ on its face, is a big grief story, a story of someone losing something and coming to terms with it,” Loomer said. “Doing it, not necessarily in the most rational way, but finding it.”

“ ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead’ is a big play about the question, ‘Can you be important without being important? Like, can you matter without being the main character of the story?’ ”

Cantrell encourages coming to both shows.

“It’s a really unique opportunity to tell this story from two different points of view and still get this cool experience as an audience member where at the end of ‘Hamlet,’ everybody’s dead,” Cantrell said. “Well, what happens next? You get to see that the next night as you follow them into the afterlife.”

Loomer said he has mixed feelings about switching between the plays.

“It’s weird. You have to be on your toes,” Loomer said.

Still, he likes that the two back-to-back plays idea is “a new challenge.”

“That’s part of why I signed on to do it,” Loomer said. “I thought, ‘That’s something different, that’s something that will help sort of stretch those muscles.’ ”

Manito Park on Duncan Gardens East Lawn, Riverfront Park in the Lilac Bowl, and Sky Prairie Park at the Parkway Entrance will each be rotated through as performance venues. The shows are outside, so Cantrell advises that attendees bring a blanket, water and snacks. Cantrell also recommends looking at S3’s website for a specific calendar and additional details. Most performances start at 6:30 p.m. There is no cost to attend, though S3 encourages attendees to donate money if they are able.

Jeffrey St. George, the actor who plays Hamlet, said the pay-what-you-can nature of this performances is what makes them special.

“All theater is about community. But outdoor Shakespeare, especially free outdoor Shakespeare, is about community on a different level,” St. George said. “It provides an opportunity for many people that would never see a Shakespeare, or never see a theater show at all, to come and see a high-quality, polished and professional production.”

The shows will be family friendly and run Thursday through Sunday this weekend and next. After that, the cast and crew will take a break before coming back for another run Aug. 31 through Sept. 17.

“If the heat right now is a little much for you, you can always come back and join us in September,” Cantrell said.

While the Thursday and Friday shows during the late-August/early-September run will begin at the normal 6:30 p.m., the Saturday and Sunday shows will be matinees beginning at 2 p.m. to accommodate those who wouldn’t be able to attend the evening performances.

St. George has been performing Shakespeare professionally for 10 years and is enjoying being a part of this Shakespeare in the park season. He acknowledged that acting as Hamlet presents new challenges.

“ ‘Hamlet’ comes with a lot of baggage,” St. George said. “It is the most popular play in all of Western literature. The most famous lines, the monologues, the soliloquies. Everybody’s got an opinion on Hamlet.”

Still, St. George did his research and focused on distinguishing his role from other’s opinions.

“I think I’ve successfully managed to find my Hamlet and I’m very proud to be able to show it to others,” St. George said.

He had an appeal to community members who are hesitant about going to see a Shakespearean performance.

“Many times, people are frightened of Shakespeare because they are afraid they are not going to understand it,” St. George said.

“You are going to understand this production. We have done our job, which is to make it accessible to the community. Come see it, come enjoy it.”

Paige Van Buren's reporting is part of the Teen Journalism Institute, funded by Bank of America with support from the Innovia Foundation.