The interactive performances of Grassroots Shakespeare Company’s Shakespeare in the Park make for a fun way to spend a summer evening.
Now through July 11, the cast is performing two of Shakespeare’s most well-known plays — “Comedy of Errors” and “Julius Caesar” — in Provo and Orem. Each performance is in true Shakespeare form, with an an outdoor stage, live instruments and natural lighting. “Julius Caesar” offers an exciting twist of an all-female cast, while “Comedy of Errors” provides a dynamic mix of company members.
“Not only was it fun to enjoy Shakespeare outside in a lovely park environment, but I was genuinely impressed with the actresses,” said Melanie Cox, an audience member for a recent performance of “Julius Caesar.” “Memorizing Shakespeare can’t be easy, but they delivered the lines with clarity, making the story exciting and easy to take it.”
The shows are free, with the exception of the last performance. Grassroots Shakespeare Company is a nonprofit organization with funding from donations and grants. While donations are greatly appreciated, the purpose of the group is to help bring Shakespeare to as many people as possible.
Jessamyn Svensson, who has been with the company since it started, explained that Shakespeare wrote his plays recognizing that a large portion of his audience would be from the working class. The company strives to do the same, making it accessible to all audiences and, as Svennson described it, not just for the “educated or highfalutin’.”
“We perform our summer tours for free because we want everyone to be able to have the opportunity to see us and maybe learn something about storytelling, Shakespeare or theater in general,” Svennson said.
Grassroots Shakespeare Company began in 2009 with the performance of “Much Ado About Nothing.” This started a series of annual tours that take the group as far south as Moab for the Moab Arts Festival. This year the company will perform in Idaho as well. Ticketed shows are staged at Christmas and Halloween.
Grassroots Shakespeare Company strives to create as accurate a representation of the original Shakespeare plays as possible, with no director, a lot of improvising, outdoor venues and a transferable set.
“We perform it the way it was meant to be performed,” said Alaynah Woodhouse, who plays the role of Marc Antony in “Julius Caesar.” “There is a lot of interaction between the actor and the audience members.”
Auditions for the plays are run by current actors. After callbacks and final casting, the company works for about eight or nine days to block, clean and then perform the show.
“When we say it is 100 percent collaborative, it is 100 percent collaborative,” Woodhouse said.
A short amount of time for rehearsal requires a lot of effort on the part of the actors to work together as they tell the stories. Woodhouse and Svensson agreed that this process is the most meaningful part for them.
Svensson suggested that the performances are not targeted for just those with a theatrical background. Typically the performances draw a nontheater audience that has had little interaction with Shakespeare specifically.
“I think people get scared, and they don’t need to,” Svensson said. “It’s way more fun and easy to understand than people think.”
For more information about performances and the history of Grassroots Shakespeare Company, visit www.grassrootsshakespeare.com or www.facebook.com/GrassrootsShakespeare.