Free Shakespeare in Clark Park Starts Tonight, Now with Peanut the Dog
Kathryn MacMillan is directing Shakespeare in Clark Park for the first time, and of course it’s the year when the show has a dog and 20 amateur swing dancers.
“There are a lot of moving parts to large-cast, outdoor Shakespeare. We have community dancers and a live band. Our rehearsal space is indoors, so the actors have to transfer that to a stage on the grass outside that’s four times as large, where a rehearsal can be canceled because of the weather. And the play has a dog in it, so we have to train her,” says MacMillan, who’s also associate artistic director at Lantern Theater Company. “But all the challenges are part of the fun.”
The play, opening tonight and running through July 31 with nightly free performances, is The Two Gentleman of Verona, one of Shakespeare’s romantic comedies with plenty of cross-dressing and mistaken identity. We caught up with MacMillan during rehearsals to talk about performing with the sun in your eyes and working with Peanut the dog.
What are some of the challenges of Shakespeare in Clark Park that you don’t usually come across in other productions?
It’s really hard to replicate the conditions of what it’s going to be like during the show, start to finish — the sun might be in your eyes when you’re rehearsing, but it won’t be during the show. Also, we’re teching in 100 degrees! It’s a lot of challenges, but that’s part of what creates such a lively atmosphere. The audience comes knowing they’re seeing a play outside and that’s kind of chaotic.
Were you happy with the choice of The Two Gentleman of Verona for this year’s production?
I was brought on after it was picked, but I’m really enthusiastic about the play. It’s about love, and the joys and mistakes that young people make in love. Most of us are not 20 years old anymore, so there’s a nostalgia for when you were young and foolish and making mistakes in love. There’s a sweetness to it, and an exuberance to the storytelling that feels almost magical. It’s a comedy with an uplifting ending of young love. It feels very right to do outside.
Do you have to be into Shakespeare to get into this show?
In Shakespeare’s time he would have had audiences from all works of life — people who were steeped in literature and people just coming for a good time. And he knew how to balance that. I think we created a production where the action and the language are very clear and the joy of the story comes out. The play has a real energy to it. The audience is involved: You’re included in the arguments and you become the confidants of the characters. Shakespeare is meant to be watched.
How is the community involved?
There’s definitely a mission of involving the community, and not just neighbors watching the production. We have a community of dancers — volunteers, not theater professionals or professional dancers — pulled from West Philly and all over the city, and we have a jazz band made up of high school students.
And there’s a dog in the show too? Did you put out a call for a dog?
I went to Temple’s undergraduate production of The Two Gentleman of Verona and Peanut was the dog in that show. She’s not a professional actor, she’s the 9-year-old dog of a Temple student and I asked if Peanut could be in our show as well. She’s trained to do tricks and she’s awfully cute. We’ve been paying her in a lot of dog treats.
The Two Gentleman of Verona runs from July 27 to 31 in Clark Park, near the intersection of Chester Avenue and 43rd Street. Well-behaved pups are welcome July 29 for Friendly Dog Night. All performances are free.
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