The Independent Shakespeare Company‘s Titus Andronicus has got me thinking about why Shakespeare in the Park initiatives stage tragedies as part of their free seasons. What is the role of tragedy in such a context? You have a coupe options to choose from this summer in the LA area. While Indy Shakes is staging Titus in rep with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, you can also see either The Merry Wives of Windsor or The Winter’s Tale being put up by Shakespeare by the Sea. There are in fact a huge range of free Shakespeare opportunities across southern California to compete with the more formal venues like The Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles’ Romeo & Juliet and Henry IV (you know, the one with Tom Hanks) as well as The Old Globe—which looks to have no Shakespeare on its calendar until mid-August and then nothing through next June. All of those running more than one show has at least one of joy and one of discomfort. Indy Shakes even made a point of it in the program and swag, where you could get branding with the silhouette of a donkey’s head or a skull.
This is not unique to California. In the sampling of free Shakespeare I’ve had the opportunity to see, this seems to be an industry norm for the non-profits. I confess I am a bit of an addict, and have a habit of tracking down the local community Shakespeare when I’m in town for work, research, or a conference. I’m interested in what the public exposure is to Shakespeare, as most folks don’t want to pay the exorbitant ticket prices for the high-production stuff—if they even seek out theatre or Shakespeare at all. There were nearly two hundred folks at this opening, of all ages with the exception of kids under fifteen due to the content, kitted-out just at the Hollywood Bowl with picnics and wine bottles. But attention quickly waned, a huge number of cellphones appeared, and the young woman sitting next to me down-right curled up and fell asleep. So why tragedy in the park?