NEW ULM – On the evening of June 26, Shakespeare in the park will return to the German Park Amphitheater in New Ulm with a production of “Twelfth night.
The production of Shakespeare in the Park was once a tradition in the German park. Productions of Bard’s plays were regularly performed in the park by Martin Luther College (MLC) in May, but productions have been absent in recent years. Today, the State Street Theater (SST) is reviving tradition. The theater hopes this will become an annual event presented in the new amphitheater in the German park.
This year’s production will feature the comedy “The twelfth night,” a fast-paced, quick-witted play featuring mistaken identities, misplaced love interests, and practical jokes.
The performances will take place at the German Park Amphitheater on Saturday June 26 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. and Sunday June 27 at 2 p.m. In the event of temperatures over 90 degrees or rain, performances will be held at the State Street Theater.
The return of Shakespeare in the Park will be the occasion of a festival. On the Saturday before the 2 p.m. performance, SST will host the “Pub & Restaurant Boar’s Head” in the German park pavilion, located in the middle of the flower garden. At noon, local food vendors and performers will be available at German Park to provide free entertainment and food for purchase.
At 1 p.m., artists from the Billy and the Kids Summer Drama Workshop will present their interpretation of Twelfth Night. Food vendors will continue to serve food until the Twelfth Night intermission ends.
Field activities are free and open to the public, food and drink are available for purchase, and tickets must be purchased to attend the Twelfth Night performances.
The production is directed by Michael Koester. He also plays the role of Malvolio. Koester said the idea to restart the Shakespeare in the Park program arose in part because of the COVID pandemic. The pandemic had put an end to all theatrical performances and many are eager to return.
“I missed the theater” Koester said. “I knew MLC had done it once before and thought I would try it in the amphitheater. “
The benefits of doing a play in a park are that the location is outdoors and safer for the public during a pandemic. Koester explained that when planning production, no one knew what the COVID regulations would look like at the end of June. By scheduling an outdoor production, SST could plan for more lenient COVID restrictions. The size of the audience would not need to be so small.
Koester said putting on a play in a public park presents new challenges. The sets and accessories cannot be installed in advance and left in the German park. The stage must be set up and taken down between performances. Twelfth Night will have minimal set design, but with an outdoor stage, it’s a challenge to hide the characters before they enter and after they exit. There are no curtains or stage wings to hide characters who are not in the stage.
The production will have to bring a series of walls to the amphitheater to create a temporary backstage. There will be a few more set-related comedy pieces that Koester wouldn’t spoil. He hints that during his monologue as Malvolio, there will be some humorous work behind him.
Since this is an outdoor show, stage lighting will not be required. Natural sunlight will provide everything this show needs. All performances are scheduled before dusk. The 7 p.m. show on Saturday is expected to end before sunset, but the new amphitheater has light globes to provide enough light up to the closing curtain.
The production will have a few microphones, but the cast is told not to rely on them if there is an audio issue. The amphitheater is aptly named. Koester has confirmed that there is a spot on the stage that perfectly amplifies a speaker’s voice.
Koester said running an outdoor show has a learning curve. Koester said he thought getting the actors to speak the Shakespearean dialect would be the hardest part, but it’s actually organizing it.
This is one of the reasons “Twelfth night” was chosen to resurrect Shakespeare in the Park, Koester said he wanted to start with a comedy. It is also not as well known as some of Shakespeare’s other plays.
Koester said Lee Zion, who plays Feste the Fool, has been incredibly helpful in the production. Sion is familiar with Shakespeare’s production and has played Feste before. Shakespearean language can be difficult for some. Koester said Zion was a big help in working out the phraseology for the play.
Zion said he enjoyed playing Feste. He will even integrate his ukulele into his performance.
Shakespeare’s return in the Park will technically include two versions of “Twelfth night. SST hosted a summer drama workshop for grades 7 to 12 students. Students have received a crash course in Shakespeare and will perform an abridged interpretation of Twelfth Night before Saturday’s main show.
Koester also directs the student version. For some students, it will be their first time on stage.
“This is the opportunity to teach them props, staging and costumes” Koester said.
Both shows have overlapping castings. Elijah Friese and Jarad Gleisner will appear in both versions. Friese plays Malvolio in the student version and is part of the larger production set. Gleisner plays Sebastian in both productions.
Gleisner said it wasn’t difficult to keep track of which version of the character he was playing.
“It’s fun to see the differences between the adaptation” he said.
Gleisner is no stranger to performing adapted versions of Shakespeare. He previously participated in the Prairie Fire Children’s Theater production of “A midsummer night’s dream.” He said that this version of “Twelfth night” will be a little more difficult because the Shakespearean language will be used.
If this production goes well, there could be more Shakespeare in the park in the future. Koester is optimistic about organizing more drama camps for underserved communities. He hopes to one day have a production of Shakespeare in American Sign Language or Spanish.
Advance tickets for “Twelfth night” will be available for purchase at the New Ulm Chamber of Commerce, New Ulm Hy-Vee and online at Eventbrite. Student tickets cost $ 5 and adult tickets cost $ 10. If seats are still available, tickets can be purchased on site, student tickets for $ 10 and adult tickets for $ 15.
This activity is made possible by voters in Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board through legislative appropriation from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.