Where For Art Thou, Shakespeare? In the Park, of Course!

Perhaps the closest you get to a theater experience these days is the revamped versions of Annie that are frequently (and conveniently) staged in your living room. (You always get the part of Mrs. Hannigan, right?) Or maybe your last interaction with the Bard was when a pre-Titanic Leonardo DiCaprio reintroduced you to Romeo and Juliet. Whether you pine for the days when you were a season ticket holder at the Rep or if you’re just looking for a fun way to unplug and spend an evening outdoors with the fam, packing a picnic and hitting up one of the fabulous shows at Shakespeare in the Park should be a “must do” on your summertime bucket list.

And for all you Shakespeare virgins out there, have no fear – this is theater without a hint of snootiness or pretension. (Although, feel free to brag about it around the water cooler on Monday morning.) Even if you couldn’t make it through Othello in high school, you’ll be amazed how the magic of live theater (out in the late afternoon sun and in some of Seattle’s most lovely parks, no less) can transform something that you used to skip school to avoid, into something your whole family looks forward to each summer.

shakespeare salute

Note: With shows all across Seattle and in neighboring cities like Burien, Snohomish, Bainbridge Island and Fall City, no matter where you live, you’ll find some Shakespeare in a park near you. Plus, did we mention, it’s FREE!? So dig out the blankets and camp chairs, and pack a baguette and a wedge of brie (ok, ham and cheese sandwiches will work too, no crusts please), and check out a few of the amazing Shakespeare performances happening this summer.

Seattle

The GreenStage Theater is celebrating its 25th anniversary by doing more than 50 shows in more than 20 locations across the Sound. In addition to the short BackYard Bard events, their lineup includes two full-length Shakespeare favorites: King Lear and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Be sure to check out their complete summer calendar to see when they’ll be playing at a park near you.

GreenStage Theater
Online: greenstage.org
Phone: 206-748-1551

Cost: Free (though donations gratefully accepted)
Dates: Thursday – Sunday, July 12 – August 18
Time: 7:00 pm (with a few 3:00 pm double features on weekends)

greenstage summer camp

The Wooden O theater company is marking its 20th summer of free outdoor Shakespeare by taking on a comedy (The Tempest) and a tragedy (Henry V) in 38 shows this summer. Their homepage has a full calendar of showtimes and locations.

Wooden O
Online: seattleshakespeare.org/woodeno
Phone: 206-733-8228 or 206-733-8222 (box office)

Cost: Free (though donations are gratefully accepted)
Dates: Thursday – Sunday, July 11 – August 11 (some Wed shows)
Time: 7:00 pm (with some 3:00 pm shows on weekends)

Good to know: Both of the main companies in Seattle do play in parks across the Eastside as well. As an added bonus, for your young thespians (ages 8-15), check out the Shakespeare summer camps taught by the actors and staff of GreenStage and Camp Bill taught through Wooden O.

Henry vIII

Eastside

Amidst the dragon boat races, robot battles, music stages and food trucks, the Kirkland Summerfest will also host a one-time showing of the happily ever after play: A Winter’s Tale. Your little Harry Potter fans will be happy to find  another main character named Hermione.

Kirkland Summerfest
25 Lakeshore Plaza
Kirkland, Wa 98033
Online: kirklandsummerfest.com
Phone: 425-456-1111

Cost: Free
Date: August 9, 2013
Time: 7:00 pm

waterfront shakespeare

If you’re really looking to soak up some Shakespeare, Redmond Acts Out offers a great opportunity to dive in and get your annual supply of good ol’ William. In addition to all the other great plays, music and performers, you’ll earn your drama merit badge if you make it to all five Shakespeare performances packed into just three days. (Whew!) But with back-to-back performances, even if nap schedules have you going nuts or you’re running late after soccer practice, you’ll be sure to catch a great show whenever you arrive.

Redmond Acts Out
Anderson Park
7802 168th Ave NE
Redmond, Wa 98052
Online: redmond.gov
Phone: 425-881-6777

Cost: Free
Date: August 16 – 18, 2013

Friday, 7:00 pm – A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Saturday, 4:00 pm – Two Gentlemen of Verona
Saturday, 5:30 pm – Othello
Saturday, 7:00 pm – Merry Wives of Windsor
Sunday, 7:00 pm – Twelfth Night (one-hour version)

Shakespeare in the park

North of Seattle

Based out of Monroe, Last Leaf Productions is known for being a touring theater company, taking its many kid-friendly plays across the state. This year, their “Alfresco Tour” will run throughout King and Snohomish counties and will feature the lighthearted romp Two Gentlemen of Verona and the epic tragedy Othello. Check out their homepage for a complete list of dates and parks.

Last Leaf Productions
Online: lastleaf99.org 
Phone: 360-805-9379

Cost: Free!
Dates: June 29 – August 17 (various days of the week)
Time: Start times range between 12:00 pm – 7:00 pm

Othello

Insider Tips:

Pick a comedy. You may have to explain some of the bawdier jokes to the kids (or not, your choice) but if you’re at all nervous about whether or not they will love the experience, pick a play filled with fairies and men who become donkeys (Midsummer) or girls who dress as boys and get caught up in tricky love triangles (Twelfth Night) or that take place on magical islands (The Tempest),  and it will be sure to delight.

Ease in with a pint-sized play: If you’ve got a few wiggly kiddos or little ones with early bedtimes who you can’t imagine making it through an entire play, check out the BackYard Bard events. These one hour shows (this year, it’s Twelfth Night and Merry Wives of Windsor) pack all the fun, humor, adventure and magic of the full-length plays into an easily digestible Shakespeare “snack.”

Come early. Most shows start at 7:00 pm, but get there around 6:00 pm to ensure ample time for parking, walking to the play spot, getting seats and digging into your picnic. Each production will have excellent signage out around the park to make sure you’re headed in the right direction.

shakespeare marionette

Pack the basics (at least). Even if you have dinner before the show, pack a blanket, sunscreen, bug spray, water and some sunglasses because you may be in full sun for the first part of the play. Pack a sweatshirt for the second act when the sun goes down. Plays last about two hours, so pack the pj’s for a quick change at the car before you drive home.

Bring cash. Although all these shows are free, a donation to help support the excellent actors and directors will ensure these plays happen year after year. Plus, the kids will get a kick out of putting a few dollars in when they pass the hat.

What’s your favorite Shakespeare play that you’d like to share with your family? Let us know in a comment below.

–Katie Gruver

Photos credits: Justin Baeder, Brandon O’Connor,  Seattle Shakespeare Company on Flickr and Facebook, and GreenStage on Facebook