We’ve had a terrific and enjoyably intense first full day, thanks in no small part to the orchestrative efforts of Artistic Director Sidonie Garrett, a force of nature and of culture, and someone who is bound to feature again on this site. We conducted fourteen interviews with people associated with the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival, from two young actors fresh from their performances in a ‘Team Shakespeare’ production of The Winter’s Tale, to the Mayor of the city, Sylvester James Jr., who offered some inspiring words about the role of the arts in the community. All of our interviewees spoke revealingly and often movingly about their work on and experience of Shakespeare in Kansas City. We’re uploading some extracts as I type. (And see here for a 1-minute, technicolor feature on NBC local news)
For now, some rough and unready thoughts on last night in Southmoreland Park, where we watched the penultimate performance of the Festival’s production of The Winter’s Tale. NB: This is *not* a review; this project is not about us making knee-jerk, pseudo-authoritative pronouncements about the quality or originality of the Shakespeare productions we see. We come to praise, not to bury; to celebrate and explore, not to critique and categorize. As it happens, I think this production is very fine and keenly look forward to seeing it again tonight, but here I want to offer two larger, introductory observations, prompted by last night’s experience, about the nature/culture of outdoor Shakespeare:
Kansas City has a volatile and unpredictable climate, especially at this time of year. An overcast, muggy day gave way to late-afternoon hot sunshine which in turn yielded to thunderous evening skies and tantrums of rain. In the first half of last night’s performance, pathetic fallacies abounded marvellously. Thunder rumbled throughout Leontes’ descent into madness and, almost comically on cue, at the first mention of the Oracle. Mamillius whispered his own winter’s tale into his mother’s ear so that ‘yond crickets’, Hermoine’s waiting women, would not hear it, but we could clearly hear the actual crickets that provide one layer of the park’s soundtrack. Hermoine gave her moving self-defence against a backdrop of silhouetted trees threatened by erratic streaks of lightning that were no less arbitrary and murderous than her husband’s jealousy. The rain drops, when they inevitably came, were plump and warm. Although the property of rain, here as elsewhere, is to wet (cf As You Like It), this was refreshing, even invigorating; very few of the nearly 2000 people in the audience left.
The climate is a great leveller and plays a key part in the democratic atmosphere of these events. It also gives certain lines and themes a local force. When Polixenes disowns his son, Florizel, because he has been cavorting with a shepherd’s daughter, that daughter points out, proto-democratically, that ‘The self-same sun that shines upon his court / Hides not his visage from our cottage but / Looks on both alike.’ Analogously, everyone got wet last night. Performers, tech staff, audience. Everyone heard the thunder rumbling around the radius of the zip code, saw the strobe-like lightning flashes, feared on some instinctual but manageable level for their safety. And everyone who stayed through the storm for the production’s beautiful conclusion shared in the sense of survival and achievement.
Intervals/intermissions in open spaces allow for conversations with strangers. In most indoor theatre spaces, the interval squeezes you along aisles, through corridors and into crowded, fundamentally anti-social lobbies. Sustained conversation with strangers is – in my experience at least – pretty rare. In the park you can ramble, circulate freely, find new ground and new people. The ‘wide gap of time’ that separates the two halves of this play was, in intermission terms, wider than usual as it took about 40 minutes for Festival staff to decide whether the show would go on. All of the ‘Shakespeare on the Road’ team spent the time in animated conversation with other audience members. I was especially delighted to meet Rachel and Nate, who I’m guessing were in their very early 20s but who had been coming to the Festival for the last 13 years. Rachel told me of her (radical, very intelligent-sounding) adaptation of Julius Caesar that will feature in the Kansas City Fringe this month, a piece of work that would not have been possible without the formative influence and free education provided by Heart of America Shakespeare in the park. I hope to see them again tonight and to grab an interview…
Despatched from 404 West 17th St, Kansas City, 11.07am
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