Local actors took to the stage at Kalakaua Park last week, shouting the words of William Shakespeare from under the large banyan tree.
This wasn’t a midsummer night’s dream, but rehearsals for the Hilo Community Players’ 41st year of Shakespeare in the Park.
HCP has 11 performances of the Bard’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor” planned for July, while the fifth annual Kids Shakes program will offer eight performances of “Lions in Illyria,” an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.”
“I was an English teacher at the community college, so I understand that most of the public thinks of Shakespeare as kind of distant, formal,” producer Randal McEndree said. “It’s like somebody you think you’re supposed to appreciate, but a lot of people really don’t. Yet, when you see what he wrote about, it’s amazing. He was able to understand human nature. And the comedies, which this is, are silly and funny and lots of mistaken identities.”
“Merry Wives” director Catherine McPherson-Tampos said Shakespeare is one of the “great masters.”
“His plays are timeless,” she said. “Their messages, their characters, transcend time and speak to all times and situations.”
In “Merry Wives,” for instance, McPherson-Tampos said “there’s intentional miscommunication and fake news. Now, how appropriate is that for today’s time? We have, intentionally, miscommunication going on, intending to distract people to another thing when something else is happening. And so it’s very timely.”
The HCP production, though, is set “in the not-too-distant future … And so we’re using mobile devices that are getting in the way of our communication as well.”
Modern communication anxiety is also one of the themes they’re exploring “with the words of Shakespeare and the characters that are here,” she said.
Alston Albarado, director of “Lions in Illyria,” said most of the cast in that production are youth.
“Only three or four people are adult age,” he said. “Everyone else is younger and a lot of them don’t get this kind of opportunity to do theater, let alone in a park.”
McPherson-Tampos, who also serves as HCP president, said one reason the production is important is because it’s something free the group offers to the community.
“It’s a coming together of community,” she said. “It levels all socioeconomic status. It doesn’t cost you anything to come, except maybe getting a little wet in the rain and your time to be entertained, to experience something with those who may be not of your socioeconomic (group) … all those statuses melt away as we sit and enjoy a play.”
McPherson-Tampos said the group performs Shakespeare in the Park every July. Those who plan to attend should prepare for showers.
“We go on rain or shine, so bring an umbrella and a comfortable seat if you’d like,” she said.
McEndree encouraged folks who may be reluctant to give Shakespeare a chance.
“Just watch it for the first 10 minutes,” he said. “If it’s well-directed, which both these plays are, you’ll be able to get into it by the motions. Don’t freak out about the language. And after about 10 minutes, most people go ‘oh, I get this.’ … I think a lot of people come and they’re so tense, like ‘I’m not going to understand this, it’s Shakespeare.’ It’s some people talking and telling their heart and their brain. So that’s the advice I give. Just give 10 minutes of patience and you’ll be into the show. You won’t be able to help yourself.”
According to McPherson-Tampos, HCP, an all-volunteer nonprofit organization, has been around since 1938, “entertaining, educating and enriching the Big Island community.”
For more information about HCP, visit hiloplayers.org.
Email Stephanie Salmons at firstname.lastname@example.org.