This year, seeing a live performance of a Shakespearean play will be more than a midsummer night’s dream. Shakespeare Dallas is back at Samuell-Grand Park’s amphitheater in Dallas with a new summer season for Bard lovers.
The summer season begins with The War of the Roses, a staged reading of Shakespeare’s history plays including Henry VI Part I, Henry VI Part II, Henry VI Part III and Richard III. The reading stretches over one weekend only, May 22 and 23.
Raphael Parry, Shakespeare Dallas’ executive and artistic director, is performing in The War of the Roses, discovering new aspects of English history.
“Something that’s been fascinating to me is how bloody the English monarchy was. It’s insane,” Parry said. “It’s a bloodbath. It’s really intense and it’s English history. Shakespeare spiced it up a little bit but it’s all basically fact that this is what happened during the period of the War of the Roses.”
Shakespeare Dallas commissioned Hamlet Project from playwrights Migdalia Cruz and Erik Ehn. The world premiere event, running June 3 – 13, features 16 actors performing one-person interpretations of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
The summer season wraps up with The Complete Works of Shakespeare [Abridged] [Revised], playing June 30 – July 24. The comical parody of the entire Shakespearean canon is performed by only three actors.
Even as pandemic guidelines change, Shakespeare Dallas remains focused on social distancing, onstage, behind-the-scenes and in the park.
“Each of these programs that we’re offering has an element of social distancing for the performers and the audience,” Parry said.
For War of the Roses, the actors will be reading in stationary positions six feet apart. Hamlet Project features only two actors onstage at once. With a three-person cast, The Complete Works of Shakespeare [Abridged] [Revised] is ideal for social distancing. For all of the shows, there will be social distancing backstage and in dressing rooms and no one will share a microphone.
The actors are taking another important precaution.
“Early on, we checked in with the actors and they had been vaccinated after they had been cast and so we thought, ‘Okay, great!’” Parry said.
During indoor rehearsals, everyone wore masks. The War of the Roses was fully rehearsed on Zoom.
“That’s hard!” Parry said.
The theater company is encouraging patrons to wears masks when moving within the park. Shakespeare Dallas is restricting the amphitheater’s capacity from 1200 to 500. Patrons will sit socially distanced in the grassy seating area and are welcome to remove masks once seated. There will be socially distanced lines and separate entrances and exits for the bathrooms. After performances, the amphitheater will be thoroughly cleaned.
This summer season comes after a year of pandemic uncertainty, mirroring Shakespeare’s theatrical life.
“We know that Shakespeare wrote several of his major plays during the pandemic like King Lear was written when London was shut down because of the plague. So, there’s been a little bit more insight into when he references plague in his plays that now has a lot emotional meaning to me,” Parry said. “It’s not a flippant gesture, understanding that they were isolated and locked down in London as well. So, I think we have a clearer picture of what Elizabethans were facing during many points of Shakespeare’s writing. It wasn’t fun.”
While the theater company systematically canceled its planned 2020 season, the staff created new digital programming.
“We made a really strong pivot to virtual programming very quickly when the pandemic started,” Parry said.
Buoyed by a PPP (Payroll Protection Program) loan that kept its seven-person staff employed, Shakespeare Dallas created a series of free digital educational programs including a four-person Romeo and Juliet, a series of one-hour lessons about six of Shakespeare’s plays and a series about Shakespeare’s language, his invention of words and Elizabethan history.
The educational programs have reached people across the nation and some new fans in England.
“We’re reaching a whole new audience with our virtual educational programs,” Parry said.
For adults, the theater company created virtual member events including a holiday cooking class, Shakespeare and the Suffragists, a short film celebrating the 19th Amendment and exploring the connection between the suffragist movement and Shakespeare, and Shakespeare Decoded, a podcast about contemporary issues reflected in Shakespeare’s works.
Parry anticipates these virtual programs will continue as the company returns to live performances.
“The pandemic forced us to be creative and through that, birthed out programs we’re excited about and gives us a future geographic reach,” Parry said.
In preparation of Shakespeare Dallas’ 50th season beginning this fall, the theater company underwent a rebranding process. The theater’s new tagline, “the people’s theatre,” emphasizes its connection to the community.
“We want to make sure we’re serving all of the communities in Dallas we can,” Parry said. “We’re trying several programmatic things to lower that threshold of fear about Shakespeare.”
Parry is eager to see that community in-person for the first time in more than a year.
“We have a really loyal group of core members who just can’t wait to get out to the park this weekend and maybe come out twice and maybe come out to every performance of Hamlet Project just to see the differences,” Parry said. “I think that’s great!”
Learn more: https://www.shakespearedallas.org/