Shake It Up
Arts & Entertainment
by Tricia Tisak, 06/01/2011
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For many New Yorkers and visitors, the arrival of summer means that it's time to enjoy some wonderful outdoor performances of William Shakespeare in the City. And what better way is there to spend a midsummer night than soaking up the harrowing tales of vengeful princes, teens in violent love or twins separated at birth—in iambic pentameter, no less? There are plenty of options—many of them free—to provide entertainment and escape, all while holding up a mirror to nature and ourselves. "It's an interesting question whether Shakespeare invents us, or we invent Shakespeare," says James Shapiro, English professor at Columbia University. "So much of our lives seem to be filtered through him. Again and again, whichever way we turn, it's as if Shakespeare had been there first."
Read on for all things Shakespeare to see in the City—and don't wait too long, as "summer's lease hath all too short a date."
Shakespeare in the Park
Delacorte Theater, Central Park, June 6–July 30
This annual outdoor production by The Public Theater is one of the City's most popular and, oftentimes, most difficult to get tickets for, particularly when the cast includes a marquee name (past notables include Al Pacino in The Merchant of Venice and Anne Hathaway in Twelfth Night). The 2011 season features Measure for Measure, directed by David Esbjornson, and All's Well That Ends Well, directed by Daniel Sullivan, in repertory June 6 to July 30. This season's cast includes John Collum and Diane Davis. A majority of the tickets is offered free to the general public on a first-come, first-served basis on the day of each performance at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, as well as through the website's virtual ticketing system. Also, between 1 and 3pm, a limited number of vouchers will be distributed at various locations throughout NYC's boroughs. For more information, visit shakespeareinthepark.org.
Manhattan Shakespeare Project
Summit Rock, Central Park, June 16–19, 23–26
St. Nicholas Park, Harlem, July 6–8
Sunset Park, Brooklyn, July 14, 15 and 17
Bring a blanket and settle in at one of three NYC parks for a free performance of Henry V. The all-woman Manhattan Shakespeare Company, which was founded in March 2010, strives to bring the Bard to new generations and diverse communities, says its founder and artistic director, Sarah Eismann. Although the staging will be minimal—the company will rely on found objects for props, for example—the production will be far from simple, addressing the challenges of an all-woman cast taking on a play dominated by male historical figures. "We are still in the throes of war and recession and depression and economical strife," says Eismann. "The Bard's timeless language and the literary aspects of his work talk about that, about what it's like to experience the extremes of human emotion—especially now as some of our soldiers who go off to fight are women."
Last year's inaugural production, Titus Andronicus, drew crowds of about 30 to 50 people per show. Manhattan Shakespeare Project has added performances in Harlem and Brooklyn this year, with the goal of attracting more people from a range of backgrounds to experience Shakespeare. For more information, visit manhattanshakes.org.
New York Classical Theatre
Battery Park and Governors Island
July 6, 8–10, 12–13, 15, 18–21 and 24
It's one thing to go to a Shakespeare play, but quite another to be amid the action: with New York Classical Theatre's production of Henry V, you can journey along with King Henry and his army from England (Battery Park) and cross the English Channel (New York Harbor) to France (Governors Island). The free performances are presented by New York Classical Theatre, along with the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, as part of the River to River Festival. Starting at around 5pm on each day of the performance, people can obtain wristbands required for the free ferry trip provided by Statue Cruises at Castle Clinton, in Battery Park. Performances will begin at 7pm and last about two hours, with no intermission. Even the boat ride is considered part of the play, with the audience joining the army on its way to the Battle of Agincourt. "That's what's so important about what we call 'panoramic theater,' that the audience is at the center of the action in all our plays," says Stephen Burdman, artistic director of New York Classical Theatre and director of Henry V. "We try to make it all a physical reality for the audience—we call them active spectators, because they're part of the world of the play."
It's best to bring a blanket, as seating will be limited. Come to an early show, Burdman recommends; the later performances historically have had larger audiences, and, in this case, the boat capacity will strictly limit the number able to attend the entire play. For more information, visit newyorkclassical.org.
Royal Shakespeare Company at Lincoln Center
Wade Thompson Drill Hall, Park Avenue Armory
July 6–August 14
Not only is England's Royal Shakespeare Company coming to New York City, it's bringing its own theater with it. Designed to re-create the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Shakespeare's hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon, the replica theater—along with the sets, costumes, lighting and other production elements—will be shipped to New York City, unpacked and erected at the Park Avenue Armory in mid-June. The company, which was brought to New York City by the Lincoln Center Festival and Park Avenue Armory, in association with Ohio State University, will present five plays—As You Like It, Romeo and Juliet, King Lear, The Winter's Tale and Julius Caesar—in repertory.
By the time the performances begin, the ensemble of 43 actors will have been working together for three years, allowing for an easy rapport and intimacy among the cast. What's more, the design of the thrust stage—featuring seating around three sides—bridges the distance between actor and audience. (The farthest seat from the edge of the stage is just 49 feet away.) Matinee tickets range from $68.50 to $250; evening tickets cost $81.50 to $250 (prices include a 20% tax-deductible donation to Lincoln Center). For more information, visit lincolncenter.org.
Shakespeare in the Parking Lot
Municipal Parking Lot (corner of Ludlow and Broome Streets), Lower East Side
July 7–23 and July 28–August 13
A Shakespeare in the Parking Lot production is always free, and it always happens while the parking lot is in operation—making for a surprising and flexible stage. More often than not, a car will be parked in the middle of where the company had planned to set up, but this does not deter the actors or the audience. "One of the most beautiful things you'll ever see in theater is to see everybody in that parking lot stand up, pick up their chairs and move to the sides when the car owner comes back to get his car," says Hamilton Clancy, artistic director of The Drilling Company's Shakespeare in the Parking Lot. "Then everybody turns around, puts their chairs right back down and the actors—boom!—pick up where they left off, like nothing had happened. It's a great community moment, and the person whose car has been parked there always gets a cheer as well."
Celebrating the 20th anniversary of this urban phenomenon on asphalt, The Drilling Company is performing two plays from opposite sides of the canon's spectrum: Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare's shortest comedy, July 7 to 23, and Hamlet, one of the longest—and bloodiest—among the tragedies, July 28 to August 13. Performances are held on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm.
Although some chairs are provided, audience members may bring their own for a guaranteed seat—just make sure they're ultra-portable, of course. For more information, visit shakespeareintheparkinglot.com.