Embracing outdoor nature of Shakespearean plays

Work in progress

June 01, 2008|By Courtney Pomeroy | Courtney Pomeroy,Sun Reporter

Ian Gallanar has spent his career trying to make the theater a more exciting experience for a wide array of audiences. More than a decade ago he conceived, wrote and directed Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego Live!, one of about a dozen plays he's written for kids.

With help from the truthful nature of children, he says those plays have taught him what an audience really wants in a performance.

As artistic director of the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, he will put this knowledge to good use on Friday by leading the cast of The Comedy of Errors into its first performance of the summer.

The show will not be in a theater but rather at the Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park in Ellicott City, an outdoor venue that Gallanar says contributes to the playfulness of the company's performances.

IN HIS OWN WORDS --One of the really fun things about putting the show together was we're doing a lot of people on wheels and things. We bought them those "Heelys" -- the shoes with wheels on them -- and we also had them on pogo sticks and scooters. We set the play in sort of a fantasy world, sort of a modern circus world, so we are creating sort of a unique style with the way the characters move.

LEARNING FROM THE KIDS --What you learn from working in children's theater is that kids don't care about the rules of theater. All they want to do is be engaged. They don't sit there and go, `Well that's not a very good actor,' or, `That set doesn't look very good' or anything like that. They sit there and they say, `Am I engaged in this experience?' That's the big challenge of classical theater ... -- to take this material that's 400 years old and still use these great works to engage people. The other thing about it is -- children's theater can and often does use a lot of interaction between audiences and performers, and that's what, particularly, Shakespeare does. It was a great way to hone that and learn about that.

BREAKING THE FOURTH WALL --In Shakespeare, there's a technique called direct address. It's when characters talk directly to the audience. It's something that we embrace and use as much as possible to just sort of interact with the audience as much as we can. In theater culture, you don't allow yourself to be seen in costume by the audience except for in the play. What we actually do is we have our actors hanging out with the audience if they care to, in costume if they care to, just to sort of be able to chat with people before and during and after the show as well.

GOING OUTSIDE --These plays were originally performed outdoors. So they lend themselves to that. I don't know that I would do Neil Simon or Tennessee Williams outside. On a bet I might. But Shakespeare plays really are sort of created for that venue. Also, what I love about performing outdoors is it eliminates that sort of stuffiness ... of going into a darkened theater and sitting in your sometimes uncomfortable seats and waiting for the lights to come on or the curtain to raise, and then you sort of have this experience with these performers who are kind of behind ... some barrier. Everyone's sort of in it together, and that aligns a lot with our mission, which is connecting the work to our audience and our community.

OUTDOOR PERILS --So you've got rain, there are trains and planes that go by from time to time making a lot of noise. ... During the big cicada year, we had to delay our shows for a week because otherwise we would've been fighting cicadas all day. So you know, all that kind of stuff ... you can either view that as a problem or an obstacle, or you can sort of embrace it and have it be sort of the excitement of it.

courtney.pomeroy@baltsun.com

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