Friday, July 13, 2018

Shakespeare in the Parks offers the Bard's best on five-state grand tour

The ladies take revenge on their fickle paramours as the action heats up in "Love's Labour's Lost," playing in repertory
with "Othello," as Shakespeare in the Parks continues its 61 stops in a multi-state region. 


Back stage, on the lawn of Fishtail Family Park,
 actors make quick changes behind the scenes.


FOR NEARLY a half century of summers, Montana's Shakespeare in the Parks has been bringing quality professional theater to thousands of people in rural areas of the Rocky Mountains.
In city parks, on football fields, pastures and school yards, the beloved troupe presents a remarkable six dozen shows during its summer season.
 Jordan Pettis plays Don Adriano de Armado,
a fantastical Spaniard. The actor's character
keeps the action exciting and audience delighted. 
What makes the undertaking noteworthy is that in a single day, the company transforms an empty space into a believable theatrical stage -- complete with balcony, set and costumes. The feat is remarkable when one considers it is done day after day with little time off.
On their way to "maturity," the high-stepping quartet
 of young men cavort. Costumes are kept clean and
pressed, despite an arduous schedule of transportation.
 WHEN I FIRST INTERVIEWED the founder of Montana's Shakespeare in the Parks, Joel Jahnke said the touring troupe's mission was to serve rural areas and people who might not normally be able to afford or have access to quality theater. My first of many interviews with Jahnke was in 1976, a few  years after the company's 1973 beginning on a bare bones budget. The energetic longtime faculty member at Montana State University retired a few 
years ago, but his influence and goals are still felt and perpetuated in the company's 46th season., organized by executive director Kevin Asselin. This year, the ensemble is producing 76 performances in 61 communities across Montana, northern Wyoming, eastern Idaho, western North Dakota and eastern Washington. Theater lovers of all ages in five states enjoy polished productions of "Othello" and "Love's Labour's Lost" in a variety of venues ranging from fairgounds and parking lots to memorial pavilions, barns, amphitheaters and the occasional nursing home.
THE COMPANY features
Before the Fishtail show this week, workers began assembling
the stage in mid-morning. By mid- afternoon, townsfolk
began arriving to set up their chairs.
ten professional actors, selected by national auditions, and 25 more talents in the production company -- sound and lighting designers, carpenters, costumers, prop master, set designer, directors, choreographer and more. The range of towns is primarily rural, but includes the troupe's hometown, Bozeman, and Billings, another college town.  The company hails from a range of U.S. states -- Kentucky, New York, Michigan,California, Tennessee, Texas and beyond. They gather at MSU and the season kicks off in mid-June in the MSU Grove, then tours through Labor Day. The run ends on home turf: Livingston, Bozeman, Belgrade and Manhattan.
Christene "Cookie" Meyers, who has written about
Shakespeare in the Parks for decades, tips a pre-show glass.
WE TOOK IN a delightful "Love's Labour's Lost" this week at Fishtail Family Park, where several hundred people enjoyed the spirited story of  a quartet of gentlemen who try in vain to swear off the favors of the fair sex.
 The men evolve as they struggle to reach maturity -- delighting the crowd with the Bard's oft-used themes of mistaken identity, disguises, and "good for the goose, good for the gander" theatrics. Modern music enhances.
By the tour's end, more than 35,000 people will have been treated to the pair of plays. By tradition, the company chooses two works each season to illustrate the broad range of the playwright's genius.
Standing ovation this week in Fishtail, for a bravura performance.

Backers and donors keep the performances free, another unusual feature. Civic groups and arts organizations sponsor -- our Fishtail show was presented by Absaroka Fine Arts.
DONATIONS are welcome and the website shows you where to catch the next show. The company's outreach extends beyond Shakespeare in the Parks to a school program and other fund-raisers and presentations.
The troupe is in Silvergate, Big Timber, Powell, Cody and Worland Wyoming, Roundup and Townsend this week.

Hands on coaching comes to aspiring cellist Elliana Broscious,
from New York based cellist Myron Lutzke at Tippet Rise Art Center.
UP NEXT:   Tippet Rise Art Center near Fishtail, Montana, imports world class musicians to entertain in a summer concert season.  The creative enterprise also introduces youngsters to the music with a novel "Instrument Petting Zoo."  We take you there, with our great niece, Elliana, who had her first cello lesson from a noted New York cellist. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays when we post for each weekend, a novel look at travel, art, adventure, nature and family.


  1. Drama Lovers in DentonJuly 13, 2018 at 7:50 PM

    Grateful are we who can be part of this wonderful program. Have not missed a year in 17 seasons. Thank you for spreading the word.

  2. Cody culture loversJuly 13, 2018 at 9:27 PM

    Bravo, brava. Well done, MSU theater arts department, and whereiscookie for reporting. Christene, we miss your Gazette pieces. Not the same without you.

  3. Santa Barbara Bard BoostersJuly 14, 2018 at 7:06 AM

    We are so fortunate to have this wonderful gift each summer. Truly one of the highlights of the season for us. We come to Red Lodge from southern California and make sure we see both performances here and in in nearby towns. Thank you for your story and delightful photos, commending this treasure in the Treasure State!

  4. Cooke City Play LoversJuly 19, 2018 at 1:23 PM

    We always take in the Cooke City show.... great to hear your reminder...

  5. W et are visiting from Kent, in the UK. What a refreshing spin on our "Billy." Hope to catch the tragedy. "Love's Labour's" delightful.