Thursday, August 3, 2023

Montana's dedicated Shakespeare in the Parks entertains for a half century

Lights, action, enjoyment. Montana Shakespeare in the Parks brings a pair of works to enthusiastic
audiences from Bozeman to Cody, Wyo., Helena to Superior, and parts of Idaho with a stop in
Washington state. The award-winning endeavor is presented free and sustained by grants and donations.


"Love's Labors Lost" was on tour in an earlier production.
Notice the elaborate costumes, and a stage that is collapsed,
packed up and transported via truck dozens of times per season. 



ONE OF Big Sky Country's treasured institutions is Montana Shakespeare in the Parks.
The ambitious touring theater is beloved by thousands, and with good reason.
Joel Jahnke ran Shakespeare in the Parks
for decades. His vision of bringing the
Bard's work to the people continues with
Kevin Asselin, current artistic director.
A troupe of seasoned actors  doubles as costumers, technicians, designers and fund-raisers for one of the state's most enterprising organizations. The troupe tours the Rockies each year to the delight of playgoers from eastern Washington to northern Wyoming and the prairies of Montana.
With a schedule that would challenge most actors, the young, limber company presents two plays in repertory fashion. While theirs is a mostly Shakespeare repertoire, this year's docket features "The Three Musketeers," adapted from the Alexandre  Dumas work, along with "Measure for Measure," which many consider among Shakespeare's finest.

Executive-artistic director
Kevin Asselin sustains
the original vision.
 Joel Jahnke, the energetic impresario of Montana's Shakespeare in the Parks, many years ago. Through the years I've keep track of the company headed for decades by this visionary man. He believes the touring troupe's mission has always been "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, three years after the company was founded. He spent 35 years at the helm as director and is crucial to its success and longevity.
Kevin Asselin has been the company's executive director since 2014 and is continuing Jahnke's crowd-pleasing tradition.
THE CROWD at a recent production of "The Three Musketeers" in Fishtail Family Park was an eclectic blend of locals -- Republicans and Democrats, students, families -- a mix of tourists new to Shakespeare in the Parks, and devotees who haven't missed a year for decades.
A tender moment in "The Three Musketeers" recently in Fishtail, Montana. 
 "We' re about finding ways to come together regardless of political or socioeconomic differences.
That belief forms the backbone of the company's success," Asselin says.
What makes the endeavor 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 and in unpredictable weather.
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 season began in "hometown" Bozeman for a rare week. Usually stops are a single night, or sometimes two. The troupe returns to  Bozeman for Sweet Pea Festival, visits Butte and Big Sky, then heads west into Driggs, Pocatello and Salmon, Idaho. 

A young girl is head
over heels for her
night at the theater.

OTHER STOPS included Silvergate, Big Timber, Powell, Cody and Worland Wyoming, Roundup and Townsend Gardiner, Boulder, Forsyth, and a swing into Beach, North Dakota, in July. The August run includes western Montana and a stop in Liberty Lake, Wash., northern Montana towns and Missoula in western Montana, then two weeks in September in Philipsburg, St. Ignatius, Superior, Anaconda, Deer Lodge, Whitehall, Livingston, Three Forks, White Sulphur and a finale in Bozeman with "The Three Musketeers" at Grand Chamberlain Park.
The road home, outside of Fishtail, at sunset, which is when
the plays end this time of year. Check the schedule for a
play near you by Montana Shakespeare in the Parks.
"We love it when we get to stay two nights," the company members say. "It's a real treat not to have to move everything every day." 

For tickets or more information:

Chief Dan George played the character of Old Lodge Skins,
in "Little Big Man," starring Dustin Hoffman.  Despite his
second billing, the actor won awards for his convincing portrayal
of the wise chief who names Hoffman's Jack Crabb character.

UP NEXT: We consider a Montana-made movie that changed the world's thinking about indigenous people and native Americans.  "Little Big Man"  was filmed mostly in Montana in 1969 and 1970, the first film about the Indians and Old West to portray native people as  complex human beings, not the stereotypes of many earlier films. A three-day seminar in Hardin, Montana, celebrated the film's anniversary during the week of the infamous Battle of the Little Big Horn, in which Gen. George Armstrong Custer was defeated by thousands of Indian braves. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on the arts, nature, family, travel and more.


  1. We saw you two at "The Three Musketeers." We haven't missed it in more than 25 years. Thanks for sharing this wonderful event.

  2. We are proud to be the home and first and last hosts of this wonderful troupe.

  3. Wyoming SupportersAugust 6, 2023 at 2:34 PM

    We never miss their stops down here. Bravo to brava.