Wherefore art thou, Romeo?
On Saturday, you’ll find Shakespeare’s tragic romantic hero — along with Juliet and the rest of the cast — in Bong State Recreation area.
The Summit Players Theatre troupe is performing “Romeo and Juliet” in Bong to kick off its 2019 Shakespeare in the State Parks tour.
The traveling theater company, now in its fifth season, will bring the romantic tragedy to state parks across Wisconsin from June 15 through Aug. 4. In all, the actors will set up shop in 18 parks.
Before the 7 p.m. show, the acting company leads a 45-minute workshop on Shakespeare, designed to help modern audience members get over their fear of the Bard’s works, said Hannah Klapperich-Mueller, the company founder and executive director.
This is the first time the troupe is performing a Shakespearean tragedy.
“For our fifth anniversary season, we decided to celebrate with a different type of play,” said Klapperich-Mueller. “ ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is a good fit for us. It’s a comedy until it’s not — definitely not. It’s also Shakespeare’s most well-known play, so we couldn’t avoid doing it forever.”
The Summit Players shows are performed in a “fun, family-friendly way” — according to their publicity materials — and when we asked Klapperich-Mueller how a story in which (spoiler alert!) the young lovers end up deceased,she said this production “leans into the fun of the first half of the play.”
Seeing tragedies, she added, “allows the audience members to dig deeper into their own humanity; it’s about connecting with other humans.”
Fashioning Shakespeare’s shows for 75-minute, outdoor performances is, Klapperich-Mueller said, “a fun challenge.”
The troupe doesn’t change any of the dialogue, but it does cut the shows for length.
“It’s all Shakespeare’s words; just less of them,” Klapperich-Mueller said.
The director works to “cut out elements modern audiences have a hard time understanding. We cut out a lot of the flowery language and archaic references and focus on the core story.”
Once actors start rehearsing the shows and working with the dialogue, more cuts are made in a line-by-line fashion until it can fit into a 75-minute time slot.
But what if I hate Shakespeare?
Klapperich-Mueller describes these performances as Shakespeare that “anyone can afford, attend and understand.”
For people who tell her they just can’t get into Shakespeare’s language, she says, “You might not be giving yourself enough of a shot at understanding it. Our workshop before the show will help people learn the basics before the show.”
And if you’re still terrified of Shakespeare’s shows?
“We tell those people to come and check out this show,” Klapperich-Mueller said. “Those are the people we’re really trying to reach.”
Most people encounter Shakespeare “in a classroom under fluorescent lighting, but it’s meant to be seen and heard, not read in a classroom. Shakespeare’s shows are full of life and really fun, with lots of action.”
She added that in their performances, “the actors really know what they’re saying, too, and are clear on the story.”
Started after a camping trip
The Summit Players Theatre started after Klapperich-Mueller was on a camping trip with her family “and I was walking past a wooden amphitheater in a state park. I thought ‘wouldn’t it be great to go there and do a show?’”
At that time, Klapperich-Mueller was an undergraduate student at Marquette University, and she enlisted some of her classmates into doing a tour through Wisconsin’s state parks.
“We picked Shakespeare because ‘Shakespeare in the Park’ is a known entity,” she said.
The troupe’s first show was at Bong.
“We had 85 people in the audience, and we’ve just continued to grow from there.”
She continues to start the tour at Bong “because that’s where we started, and they were so receptive to us.”
Audiences, she said, continue to embrace the outdoor shows.
“We’ve had a lot of people come who think they know Shakespeare but are so pleased to finally understand it; we hear that in our surveys all the time.”
Families also come and bring young children “for their first live theater experience.”
The free pre-show workshop on Saturday is 45 minutes and is “very interactive,” Klapperich-Mueller said.
“We play theater games to warm up and get to know each.
“We talk about who Shakespeare was and the context of when he was alive. We also give a preview of the show and the plot and give them tools to understand the language.”
The Summit Players team has three new members this summer — Ryan Zierk, Simon Earle and Jackson Hoemann.
Zierk is a recent University of Wisconsin-Parkside graduate who is excited to be starting the tour in his “home” park of Bong.
“All his family is coming to Bong for this show,” Klapperich-Mueller said.
Though she wouldn’t name a favorite state park to perform in — “I would be cheating on all of them if I picked a favorite! — she did say it’s fun “to get to some of the farther flung parks in the state. New parks ask us to come and perform every summer, and some people plan camping trips around our schedule.”
Asked why someone should come to see a performance, Klapperich-Mueller said, “At the most basic level, it’s a really fun time. We also love being able to support the state park system and bring people out to the parks.
“Come and bring some friends, some family members, bring a picnic. We build connections between Shakespeare, the outdoors and fun.”
The shows, she added, are performed rain or shine — moving inside if the weather is bad.