Just off the walking path in the open space behind the Goodson Recreation Center in Centennial, a band of actors is rehearsing. They are preparing to make their dream come true of presenting Shakespeare, outdoors, for free.
Leigh Miller came up with the idea while on a run on the Highline Canal path.
“I have run there for the last decade. We've lived in our house for 11 years and for 11 years, I on a monthly basis would tell my wife, ‘They really should do Shakespeare down there. That's such a great space. It's so pretty. It's so beautiful. Somebody should do Shakespeare,’” Miller said.
Then about three years ago, Miller called the executive director of South Suburban Parks and Recreation and made his pitch.
“‘I want to do Shakespeare in your space. What, what do I have to do to do that?’ And it was a pretty difficult conversation because he just started with ‘Yes,’ Miller said. “And then we just kept going. I was expecting more pushback, but he said, ‘We would love that, please.’"
The original plan was to open a production of “The Tempest“ in June 2020. After the difficulties of the past two years, however, Miller — founder and producing artistic director of Shakespeare in the Wild — and artistic director Sam Gregory decided to present one of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies instead, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and the company of actors agreed.
“I have to tell you that, “Midsummer Night’s Dream” was the first play I ever did. And it set me on the course of a 35-year career in the theater. I love the play.” Gregory said. “And my whole concept is dictated by our budget, which has virtually no money. So everything comes out of a box that you'll see on stage. People pull out their costumes and things and put on pieces and, and launch into it.”
Gregory added that another unique idea in the production is that the play never stops.
“In other words, as soon as the last word of the last scene is spoken, the next word of the next scene is spoken … even if [the] actors aren't fully in costume yet. So that no matter what happens, that play keeps going.”
Miller said the pandemic taught the troupe lessons about what work they wanted to do next.
“And after the pandemic, it became abundantly clear that we, that I, wanted to do something with my community in which I had artistic collaborators. This is a place for artists to come and work with people they love, or they enjoy that they want to be part of,” Miller said.
Community and collaboration are sentiments repeated by the actors in between rehearsing their scenes.
“It's magical because Midsummer Night’s Dream touches anybody, even people that are not the biggest Shakespeare fans, you go, ‘What Shakespeare play do you like?’ And never fails that they say Midsummer,” said Chelsea Frye, who plays Peter Quince and Cobweb. “Because this touches everybody. It's fun. It's got fairies, it's got love, it's got mischief and who doesn't love summer and a giant, beautiful full-blown moon.”
Leslie O'Carroll was originally slated to play Bottom, but she has another show starting rehearsals — so her husband, Steve Wilson, stepped in instead to play the role.
“I love the play so much and I'd played Bottom, hmm, 20 years ago. One of the very select few roles I just love to do again. Cause it's so fun and it's great company,” Wilson said.
“You know, the theater's a crazy place, but I had never heard of a husband understudying, a wife and playing the same role,” Wilson said.
The Midsummer cast is a mix of union and non-union actors, which isn’t unusual in Colorado. But, the post-pandemic spirit, Miller said, is different.
“I think I would be pretty arrogant to say that the pandemic didn't change a lot, as an artist, especially a theater artist who has spent my entire professional career in the theater, to watch all of that evaporate and watch my community struggle and watch jobs disappear,” Miller said. “And it has been profound in so many ways for so many people. My wife is not in the theater at all, and to watch her life and the way that she sees her work change, the theater, I think now ready to say, we can now approach art as artists in a different way, because we've seen the world without it.”
Director Sam Gregory is focused on the joy this project can bring for the artists and the audience.
“It's really about joy. I wake up every morning and I read the paper and what's missing in our world so much is just joy. And I know that this is something this play can deliver,” Gregory said. “And I knew that I had the ability to bring out the joy in this play. So that's the whole point to come and just have a great time.”
Shakespeare In The Wild’s production of Midsummer Night’s Dream opens Friday, August 19 and plays through the weekend as well as next weekend — August 26 through August 28. Performances begin at 7:30 PM in the open space near Goodson Rec Center on University Boulevard in Centennial.
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