Griffith Park Free Shakespeare Festival Opens June 28

Presented by Independent Shakespeare Co., the Griffith Park Free Shakespeare Festival is the largest summer theater event in the City of Los Angeles. This year ISC is offering over 40 nights of programming beginning June 28 with Shakespeare’s rarely-produced romance, The Winter’s Tale, directed by Sanford Robbins. Alongside that are two of his most popular comedies, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (opening Thursday, July 5) and The Comedy of Errors (opening Thursday, August 2), both directed by ISC Artistic Director, Melissa Chalsma who will also take the stage as Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream

“We strive to make connections with our audience that are unexpected and engaging,” says Chalsma. “With every production, we are working to connect not only the actors to the audience, but the audience to each other. The Festival in the park is a great fit for LA. It’s a theater, yes, but it’s also a place you can stretch out on a blanket, eat, talk to your neighbor, play Frisbee before the show, tweet about what you thought about Act Three, bring your kids…it’s this great combination: professional theater in an absolutely informal setting.”

The 2011 season boasted record attendance of more than 25,000, making it the largest summer theater event in the City of Los Angeles and the largest Shakespeare Festival in Los Angeles. ISC builds its festival stage at the site of the Old Zoo (near the Carousel), a natural amphitheater conveniently located next to ample parking.

In addition to the productions, there are nine PLAYERS IN THE PARK/ JUGAMOS EN EL PARQUE pre-show workshops on select evenings. These workshops are an interactive, entertaining way for families to learn about the evening’s performance. Led by ISC Teaching Artists, workshop participants learn about Shakespeare’s language, theatrical staging, and what to look for in the play they will be seeing. They also get to speak lines of dialogue from the stage, and have a backstage tour and meet the actors.

In 2011, ISC received a grant from the James Irvine Foundation in order to expand this workshop series to include bilingual families. ISC created study guide materials in Spanish and English as well as a Spanish-language web portal, and now offer the workshops in both Spanish and English. ISC has historically attracted an uncharacteristically youthful and diverse theater audience. Here’s a look at the plays:

The Winter’s Tale
(June 28 – July 29)
Directed by Sanford Robbins

In Sicilia, all is well. Peace reigns, and the King and Queen are happily expecting a child. But when King Leontes becomes consumed with the thought that his best friend and his wife are betraying him, one misunderstanding spirals into tragedy. Indifferent to the word of the Gods, reason, or natural sentiment, he resigns his wife, son, and unborn child to a dreadful fate. As the years roll on, however, a very different destiny is evolving on the island of Bohemia. Rustic and wild, it is a place where love prevails and music and humor are rampant. When the two worlds intersect, miracles come to pass. Shakespeare’s great romance challenges our expectations: folding time and genre into a unique work of art that reveals the essential, humane nature of the author. Scenic design is by Caitlin Lainoff; costumes by Garry Lennon; and lighting by Bosco Flanagan

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
(July 5 – September 2)
Directed by Melissa Chalsma

In a fantastical Athens surrounded by an enchanted wood, the lines between dreaming and waking are deliciously blurred. As the wedding of Duke Theseus to his captured Amazonian bride approaches, a group of tradesmen rehearse a play celebrate the nuptials. In the shadows alongside them, the King and Queen of the fairies do battle, lovers succumb to magic and to each other, while forest spirits seek to unravel the mysteries of the human heart. This production of Shakespeare’s most intoxicating comedy is staged with athletic abandon and dazzling costumes: perfect for the whole family. Scenic design is by Caitlin Lainoff; costumes by Garry Lennon; and lighting by Bosco Flanagan

The Comedy of Errors
(August 2 – September 1)
Directed by Melissa Chalsma

Do you ever feel that something in your life is missing? The Mediterranean Island of Ephesus at the tail end of WWII is a dangerous place. Locked in a battle with neighboring Syracuse, the town is suspicious of strangers. Into this place, two men come to town seeking to find themselves, but inadvertently cut a path of chaos. During the upheaval, love is lost and found, lives are saved, and a community is restored. A live band and period dancing complete Shakespeare’s most compact and fast-paced comedy. Scenic design is by Caitlin Lainoff; costumes by Kate Bishop; and lighting by Bosco Flanagan.

Special pre-show performances will also take place on select evenings at 6:30 pm. Mariachi Los Toros (Thurs, July 12), Invertigo Dance Theatre: Cupid Painted Blind (Sun, 7/22; Thurs, 7/26; Sun, 8/5; Sun, 8/12; Thurs, 8/16), The Jumbo Shrimp Circus (Fri, 8/17; Thurs, 8/23; Thurs, 8/30).

The Salon Series features Discussions at the Intersection of Shakespeare and Contemporary Culture. Salon Series events meet under a tree in the performance area at 6:00 pm. Shakespeare Now with Sanford Robbins (Sat, 6/30). Shakespeare and the Science of Chaos with Claire Marie-Peterson (Sat, 8/4). Reservations are recommended for the Salons: cronk@iscla.org or call (818) 710-6306.

Griffith Park FREE Shakespeare Festival runs June 28 – Sept 2,  Thursdays through Sundays at 7 pm. The Festival is located in The Old Zoo at Griffith Park (near 4730 Crystal Spring Dr.) GPS Coordinates of the parking area: 34*8.034’N, 118* 17.100‘W. Visit www.iscla.org or call (818) 710-6306 for directions and information.

PLEASE NOTE: There is no seating at the site. Please bring a blanket or low-backed chair. It is also very cool when the sun goes down. Dress warmly.

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