Dilettante: Shakespeare al fresco
by Jan Brennan
KENNEBUNK – Anyone who is within driving distance of Kennebunk this summer is being given a gift - free performances of three Shakespeare plays.
A new, resident company of actors called MaineStage Shakespeare has come to town, and will be performing "Romeo and Juliet," "The Comedy of Errors" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in revolving repertory.
Revolving rep means two or more plays are performed every week, on alternating days. It's a great concept for a tourist town; people who are here for a week or even for just a weekend will be able to see all three plays. It is, though, quite a challenge for the actors, who have to divide their focus among the three different characters they are playing – and also memorize all those difficult Shakespeare lines, learning three plays at once.
The 10 young but experienced actors who comprise MaineStage Shakespeare are equal to the challenge. Artistic Director Chiara Klein explained that the actors were carefully cast so that each player's three characters is very different from one play to the next, to lessen the chance for mental confusion. Then, "We rehearse one play every morning, and another one every afternoon," she said.
The season starts this Friday, July 1, with "The Comedy of Errors." Shakespeare set this slapstick-heavy farce in Ephesus, a coastal city in what is now Turkey on the Aegean Sea, during the Classical era. Director Karen Lamb has changed the time to the early 1900s and the place, appropriately enough, to a coastal town in Maine.
"Romeo and Juliet" premieres Saturday, July 2. Directed by James Alexander Bond, it will be done in the traditional way, set in Verona during Renaissance times.
"A Midsummer Night's Dream" will begin its run on July 16. Klein is directing this one, and her version will be "a modern take on the play." In an effort to attract young families, all performances of this gentle comedy featuring fairies will be matinees. It is also the only one of the three plays to include local actors: children from KidSummer, the weeklong acting camp run by the Kennebunk Parks and Recreation Department and taught by the actors of MaineStage Shakespeare. This collaboration between the troupe and the town provides local kids with a rare and welcome opportunity to learn acting techniques from professional actors. All members of the ensemble, except for directors Lamb and Bond, will work with the children, teaching acting, stage combat and dance to kids ages 10-17.
The MaineStage group is also teaching a second class through the Rec Department called Playgroundlings. Children from ages 5 to 17 who attend this camp will write and perform their own short plays, which will be presented before the Saturday afternoon performances.
The involvement of the Kennebunk Rec Department was important to MaineStage. "We didn't want to be seen as a bunch of New Yorkers coming to take over the town," Klein said. They considered local support as a necessary prerequisite to their arrival.
The idea of a resident Shakespeare company was hatched last summer, when Klein, Stephanie Strohm and Meg Kiley Smith were working at Shakespeare in the Valley in Waterville Valley, N.H. The three recent college grads were fantasizing about perfect summer acting jobs. Then, Klein says, the stars aligned, "and everything came together to bring us to Kennebunk."
Kiley Smith's and Strohm's families own summer homes in Kennebunkport, and they offered the houses to the troupe. Fellow actors, all mutual friends, jumped on board. Kennebunk town officials were looking for a new cultural offering to put in their recently refurbished downtown, and proposed the lush Lafayette Park as a venue, with the auditorium in Kennebunk Town Hall as a rain location. Renee Monnier and Chris Logan at Collectiques & Estate Sales in Wells offered to provide props and set decorations. An anonymous donor came forward with funding; that money, plus the earnings from the Rec Department camps and whatever donations are collected at the performances, is providing salaries for the group that run "in the mid-range for summer stock" pay, Klein says.
If the troupe is successful this season, they hope to be back next year – and every summer after that. Klein is urging the public to come this weekend, to see the group's first performances. That way, years from now when MaineStage Shakespeare is a thriving and well-known company, people can say "I was there when it all started."
Performances are Thursday through Sunday, through Aug 13. For directions, the full schedule, or more information on MaineStage Shakespeare, go to www.mainestageshakespeare.com.