Menomonie-Upon-Avon

theater group brings the Bard outdoors

Emily Anderson, photos by Leah Dunbar

Shakespeare in the satellite dish. MTG’s Shakespeare In The Park last year in Wilson Park, Menomonie.
Shakespeare in the satellite dish. MTG’s Shakespeare In The Park last year in
Wilson Park, Menomonie.

Shakespeare in the Park is a national trend that has made its way to the Chippewa Valley. The Menomonie Theatre Guild is in its fifth year of presenting the Bard’s works at Wilson Park, a tradition that started in 2008 with Romeo and Juliet. This year the Menomonie Theatre Guild will be putting on Shakespeare’s
The Tempest. According to the MTG website, “The Tempest is the story of the wizard Prospero, played by Jordan Heckman, who has been marooned on an island by his enemies. His only companions are his daughter (Melissa Friedman) and the spirits who do his bidding. When Prospero’s enemies sail by, Prospero raises the tempest that crashes their ship and strands them on his rocky shore. Holding their fate in the palm of his hand, Prospero must decide whether to forgive them or exact his revenge. Meanwhile, the creature Caliban (Arthur Kneeland), one of Prospero’s enslaved devils, plots to overthrow the old wizard and have him murdered in his sleep. As if that isn’t enough drama, Prospero’s daughter is falling in love with the son of his enemy.”

Shakespeare in the Park takes place at the Wilson Park Bandshell in Menomonie, and will happen rain or shine. The cast of only 20 has been rehearsing in the park since early May and, luckily, have not been rained out yet. As for performing outside, the show’s director, Ryan Peterson, said, “Performing outdoors makes it necessary for the actors to play their characters larger than life. There are more distractions outside, so it means that each actor’s voice and stage presence has to rise above.”

The idea to bring Shakespeare to the park was formed when a few MTG regulars realized how underused the Wilson Park Bandshell was. From an audience standpoint, the outdoor setting is perfect for this type of performance. “There’s just something romantically Elizabethan about a handful of actors setting up a show in a park and captivating the gathering crowd,” Peterson said. “It’s like the difference between seeing a movie in the theater and going to the drive-in. I think it adds to the experience.” (Plus, if it rains the weather will add special effects to the tempest scene.)

Peterson is an online media coordinator at the UW-Stout and self-proclaimed community and university theatre veteran. He has played a part of every Shakespeare in the Park production, including directing A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 2011. He wanted to direct this year’s show because the characters are powerful and memorable and the story is full of magic and fantasy. “I’ve really enjoyed playing up Prospero’s ‘wizardliness’ and power. The guy summons crazy devils, bestows curses and speaks face to face with goddesses. At the same time, he carefully guides his daughter along as she falls in love for the first time.”

Shakespeare in the Park is free and appropriate for adults and children. If you want to experience Shakespeare in a unique setting, come to the park, bring a blanket, some chairs, maybe a picnic lunch and enjoy!

Shakespeare in the Park: The Tempest, presented by the Menomonie Theater Guild • Friday and Saturday, Aug. 23 and 24, at 7pm and Sunday, Aug. 25, at 3pm • Wilson Park Bandshell, Menomonie • FREE • (715) 231-PLAY (7529) • www.menomonietheaterguild.com