Last year, Optimist Theatre made a massive change to its performance structure – instead of performing William Shakespeare’s plays at just one park, it performed them at 11.
“We want to be a gateway theater,” says Susan Fry, the executive director of Optimist Theatre and Shakespeare in the Park. “We want to put ourselves in front of humans who potentially haven’t seen theater before, or maybe haven’t experienced Shakespeare.”
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This year’s show is a fan favorite, Twelfth Night. The comedy is a classic love triangle with a twist: After a shipwreck, Viola disguises herself as a man and a lovelorn Duke pays her to express his feelings to Olivia, the object of his affection. But Olivia falls for Viola, and Viola falls for the Duke. Hilarity ensues.
To keep the length manageable, Optimist Theatre made some revisions (Shakespeare loved his subplots!). “We’re really focusing on these female relationships,” Fry says. “How do these women connect? It’s not necessarily a love connection.”
And while the Bard might be a tough sell for the uninitiated, the talented cast – this year featuring Andrew Varela (who toured nationally with Les Misérables) – use expressive acting to make it oh-so-obvious how the characters are feeling and why. It’s a reminder that Shakespeare isn’t meant to be read in a book, but performed on a stage, or in this case, in a park. Admission is free. Bring a lawn chair and bug spray.
Twelfth Night will be touring Milwaukee County Parks through Aug. 7. Check optimisttheatre.org for dates and locations.