McMichael Park to turn into a free, outdoor theater on July 17

 Clockwise from top: Andrew Albitz, Eric Scotolati and Jamison Foreman star in the Contemporary Classic Theatre Company’s “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” (Photo courtesy of Kathryn Raines for Plate 3 Photography)

Clockwise from top: Andrew Albitz, Eric Scotolati and Jamison Foreman star in the Contemporary Classic Theatre Company’s “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” (Photo courtesy of Kathryn Raines for Plate 3 Photography)

Three actors will scurry around a meadow in the northern section of McMichael Park on Wednesday, July 17, frantically changing costumes and juggling characters as the Commonwealth Classic Theatre Company presents the free show of “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).”

The McMichael Park performance is one of 11 stops the production is making around the Philadelphia area. For director M. Craig Getting, who is directing his first outdoor production for CCTC, the biggest challenge is simply performing the show outside.

“Taking it to a different park every day is part of the annual challenge of Commonwealth in the first place,” he said, especially one that “really relies on surprise and classic theater staging.”

Sharing energy with an outdoor crowd 

While the weather is always a “prickly little thorn” for their shows, CCTC Producing Artistic Director Mary Anne Baldwin cited outside influences as another challenge. People and dogs “wandering into the scene” can create a distraction, and the actors must also compete with noise created by cars and airplanes.

Despite the interference, Baldwin said that the magic of seeing shows outdoors is how it causes an audience to pay attention.

“By the end of the show, people are so focused on what’s going on that they’ve learned not just to hear, but to listen,” she said. “That other stuff goes away.” Baldwin noted that the actors get a boost from the crowd, too, because “there’s a great sharing of energy between the audience and what happens on stage.”

This year’s production also marks a divergence for Commonwealth, which has generally presented classic shows such as “Our Town” and Shakespeare comedies over the years. For Getting, this was part of the appeal.

“I was really intrigued by the idea of doing a send-up of classics for this company that’s been doing classic plays for the last couple years,” he said. “It’s not just a send-up – it’s about three guys who really love the idea of Shakespeare even though they don’t really understand why they should like Shakespeare.”

Challenges and expectations 

The show provides almost every challenge possible for actors Andrew Albitz, Jamison Foreman and Eric Scotolati, who each cited the heat and constant costume changes as the greatest difficulties.

But Albitz, who referred to the show as “an idiot’s love letter to Shakespeare,” the production has also been “purely fun.

“It’s nice to do something that’s just fun and crazy every minute of the way,” he said.

For Getting, part of the fun has also been revising the play to fit with the actors and the location (which is normal for productions of the “Complete Works”).

“These characters don’t know a lot about Shakespeare and are trying to get at what Shakespeare is doing through movie and TV references that they understand,” said Getting. He later added that audiences can expect “a different show every night based on the venue. It is a show that’s very aware of who is seeing it and being asked to participate.”

Albitz was a bit more forward when asked what audiences can expect, stating they will be “laughing their faces off for an hour and a half.”

“The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” will begin at 7 p.m. at McMichael Park. In case of rain, the performance will be held at the William Penn Charter School.

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