With this weekend’s performances of “Othello,” GreenStage moves into rarified theater company by completing the canon of the Bard of Avon. Only nine other modern theater companies have performed every play penned by William Shakespeare, according to research conducted by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. Unlike their distinguished companions who have completed this milestone, like Royal Shakespeare Company and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, this Seattle institution made the cut by providing free entertainment each summer in local parks.
For their 26th season this summer, they will tour a full production of “Othello,” directed by Teresa Thuman, and a full production of “Love's Labour's Lost,” directed by Vince Brady. The company also will perform the Backyard Bard one-hour versions of “The Comedy of Errors” and “All's Well That Ends Well,” both directed by Marc "Mok" Moser, in Seattle’s pocket parks.
“These days, we have actors performing who came to see GreenStage as kids,” said Erin Day, the company’s artistic director. Over the past 25 seasons, “audience members have grown up with us, gone off to college, and started other Shakespeare companies in other cities.”
Day began working with GreenStage in 1994, “so while I haven’t seen everything, I’ve seen the heft of them. I just fell in love with the outdoor performances that very first summer.”
Managing director Ken Holmes contributes the company’s longevity and ability to perform all of Shakespeare’s plays outdoors to “getting a good group of people that can work well together. That’s most important part of creating ensemble.”
Over the years, the actors and crew have learned that the play’s the thing, especially when props and sets are minimal.
“The most elaborate set that we had was three archways for ‘Hamlet’ in 2008, and that required us to rent a van for that production and carry stuff around,” Holmes recalled. “Of course, one day, we were traveling Lynnwood and it started raining. The van spun out and went into a ditch. At the park, the cast showed up and the audience in their raingear showed up. None of the stuff was there. The actors figured out how to do the play in their street clothes with found objects. It became one of the most memorable experiences for everyone. The audience loved it. The actors loved it. It was one of the magical nights that reminded me that we don’t need big stuff.”
“It’s exciting to do the obscure parts of the canon. As an actor, I played some amazing roles at GreenStage,” said Day. “I really enjoyed ‘Timon of Athens,’ and I feel that it is a gravely misunderstood piece of writing. Much derision that is not fair. There’s these plays that when you read them, they don’t quite meet the standards of of something like ‘King Lear.’ But a play is not fully realized until you have a production. Something that marvelous occurs with actors and an audience, in adding those ingredients.”
Like Holmes, Day can remember many shows where Northwest’s infamously wacky weather failed to discourage the crowd or the performers. She also rhapsodized about plays performed under a full moon or that moment when the actors realized the audience had become enchanted by the poetry of a work they had never seen before. “There’s really nothing like it in the world,” said Day. “It does come down to the park, the audience, and the people that you’re working with. It’s hard, hot, and sweaty. We all have pitch in and work together to make this happen. These plays, and Shakespeare’s words, that are out of this world, dumbfounding in their grace and beauty.”
GreenStage productions can be seen this weekend at Volunteer Park as part of the Seattle Outdoor Theater Festival, which the company manages. The shows continue through August 16. A complete schedule for all shows as well as directions to the parks can be found at the company’s website.