Arts & Culture
4:51 pm
Thu July 15, 2010

Tough Times Call for Free Shakespeare

Until recently, actor Chris Shea spent 5 years on the west coast training with various theatre companies. He was inspired by what he learned there and came to Dayton to expand on the experience. It started with an idea.

Shea says, "Tailgate theatre was what I called the concept. People get really excited about sports events and I would love us to get to the point where people get that excited about the Arts."

Shea started contacting people he thought might be interested in a theatre project. Phone calls, emails and personal contacts helped develop a production staff - auditions were set - actors were chosen. The result is a project called Free Shakespeare. Shea says it's developed more as a festival event than a tailgate party but much of the idea remains the same - a casual event featuring art exhibitions and live music - and a Shakespearean performance where people can quote "rediscover the power and beauty of language"

Over the next month Free Shakespeare! happens in four very different venues. The first performance kicks off this weekend on Downtown Dayton's Courthouse Square.

With the first performance coming up this weekend, the actors have gathered on the square for a full run-through of the play. They're doing Hamlet. Archaic costumes and soft fluid-poetry of Shakespearean language make for an interesting contrast to the surrounding city-scape. High brow meets high-rise. Chris Shea says the setting could make for an interesting performance.

"Tonight's our first time rehearsing here. So we don't know if people will wander through Denmark while they wander through Downtown. It will just add to the intrigue of the show."

From Courthouse square the company moves on to the Antioch Amphitheater in Yellow Springs, The University of Dayton's Art Street, and Wegerzyn Gardens Metro Park. All very different venues.

Elizabeth Harris is is one of 13 actors in the show. She plays Hamlets Mother - Gertrude. Harris says the different venues will make performing fun.

"You can come to the shows and see something different every time, so come out and be a groupie!"

Being a groupie to the Arts can be difficult for people when money is tight, they're unemployed or worse. So Free Shakespeare founder Chris Shea says the programs purpose isn't just about liberating Shakespeare's works from the confines of history - it's about making the arts accessible. In this case ... free.

Actor and Co-director Greg Hall summed up the troupe's mission like this.

"We're just trying to put together a program where people can afford to come out and see the theatre, experience some language that they don't get to experience, and just tell a story that's hundreds of years old."

Free Shakespeare's Hamlet plays at various location through August 8th. You can catch up with them on Facebook.