¶ After the 400th anniversary celebrations, one would assume it likely that Shakespeare performances might wane. After all, we did have the Cultural Olympiad, featuring the World Shakespeare Festival, as part of the London 2012 Olympics. In 2016, there were an incredible number of events across the globe, including world tours and major city initiatives (such as the Chicago City Desk project), that staged unprecedented cycles of Shakespeare originals and adaptations. It would seem, however, that this glut of Shakespeare has stabilized an appetite for productions rather than causing audiences to be surfeit. Lucky, lucky me.
¶ I have now had a year to get a sense of the Shakespeare landscape here in the Pacific Northwest, with the help of some friends—most notably, Linfield professor and regular New Yorker contributor Daniel Pollack-Pelzner. Oregon is a hub for Shakespeare due to its award-winning regional festival in Ashland. The Henry IV plays they are running this summer are something special, by virtue of the ensemble, the lead Daniel Jose Molina, and the thoughtful direction by Lileana Blain-Cruz. If the five-hour drive and ticket prices are a deterrent for you, do not fear: there are a number of interesting Shakespeare events closer to the Columbia this summer.
¶ Settling in to the new gig and ‘orizons, it seems for the moment like the Pacific Northwest summer might just last forever. That, or I am still suffering the lingering effects of Midwestern winter weather amnesia. Due to the madness of the cross-country move, I was unable to make it out to Ashland for the famed Oregon Shakespeare Festival offerings. Keeping it local, I even managed to review the summer season of one of the Portland-based troupes, forthcoming later this fall from The Shakespeare Bulletin. Until then, here is a quick run-down of the PDX troupes with a scholarly bent if you can’t make the five-hour trek south.
¶ This nearly fifty-year-old troupe puts on a mobile Shakespeare-in-the-Parks summer season free to the public. The goal here is explicitly to use non-traditional urban spaces to bring Shakespeare to those least likely to have access, and so in many ways echoing the first troupes the toured England (rather than bunkering in London) during the mid-1500s.
¶ The company prides itself on using period-accurate rehearsal strategies to cultivate an “improv-ish” experience. While it seems like they are a bit behind the times in terms of what we would now consider accurate casting practices (they laud themselves on never using the same actor twice, when in the period typecasting based on humors was an actors bread-and-butter), all of their other tactics are spot-on: limited rehearsal; an onstage prompter; fast paced, energetic acting; and lots of audience interaction.
¶ This is the newest of the troupes in town. Entering its sixth season, the Project’s branding and mission is very similar to its nonprofit counterpart in the Windy City, the Shakespeare Project of Chicago. Both are committed to using local practitioners rather than importing a recognizable face from television or film (a significant problem in the Chicago media casting scene as well as the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre).
¶ I hope you’ll join me at one of these performances next summer! ¶ Elizabeth