In an attempt to bring social events back into the regular flow of things, the Spokane Shakespeare Society presents two plays this summer at Riverfront Park that are free and family friendly.
Celebrating its returning season, the local group is partnering with Spokane Parks and Recreation to bring several showings to the downtown area. In August, it brought Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” directed by Amanda Cantrell and Jamie Suter. The show was staged Aug. 6-8, 20, 22, 26-27 and 29.
In September, director Jessica Loomer will present five showings of “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged,” by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield. These shows will all take place in the evenings, running Sept. 17-18 and 23-25 along with the potential to add October dates.
Shows begin at 6:30 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. on Sundays. Open seating will begin 30 minutes prior to curtain.
The nonprofit organization was founded in January and made the announcement of their productions on Shakespeare Day, April 23. The group is a proud recipient of the Spokane Arts Grant Award, helping them create the best shows possible for the Spokane community and allowing them to provide a more accessible event.
Despite being a nonprofit, it was established as a professional theater, meaning everyone involved in the production is paid a stipend. So, while the shows are free, small donations for tickets are accepted and appreciated.
Executive Director and Co-Founder Amanda Cantrell has an extensive history in the arts, working with theaters in Texas, Georgia and Alaska, as well as working in education to create theater departments in public schools in Texas. She also holds a doctorate in nonprofit leadership.
“We founded it because Spokane has amazing parks and there wasn’t any Shakespeare that was regularly happening, so it seemed like a huge, missed opportunity,” Cantrell said.
The organization, according to Cantrell, is in an open-ended agreement with the Spokane Parks and Recreation to bring plays to the downtown area during the summer, and possibly fall, in upcoming years. The group has also taken several safety precautions as Spokane continues to face COVID-19 concerns.
“It was really important to the parks that our cast is fully vaccinated, so everyone involved is fully vaccinated … We really tried to make sure that we are keeping everybody safe and doing what we can to make sure the cast is safe and producing in a way that makes the community feel comfortable,” Cantrell said.
Performances take place outside, in the Lilac Bowl or the Riverfront Pavilion, making it much easier to bring live theater back to the community during the tail end of the pandemic, all while taking advantage of the summer weather.
The outdoor staging also allows for magical scenery that fits the midsummer aesthetic very well. With fun props, modern costumes and enthusiastic actors, the show comes to life in a wonderful way.
Cantrell decided on a modern spin of this classic Shakespearean comedy. Although the Shakespearean language is still fully intact, the actions, costumes and mannerisms feel very modern-day. The fairy magic of the play is humorous and engages the audience in a dream-like experience, just as Shakespeare intended.
With the audience sitting on a grassy hill looking down to the stage, seating was plentiful and comfortable, and many families brought picnic style dinners and to make an evening of it.
The performance has also thoroughly increased excitement for the September show as well. “The Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged,” directed by Jessica Loomer, is a modern comedic performance about Shakespeare's many works rather than a retelling of a singular play.
“It’s a three-man show, and these men have decided to put on a show of the complete works of William Shakespeare, all 37 plays and sonnets and so on, in 90 minutes," Loomer said. "Because of that, many of his works get mentioned by name and have a passing joke about them, and then it moves along."
The play is a fast-paced, silly and modern show that Loomer reported as a fun experience for not only the audience, but also the actors and herself, as they had the ability to revise and play with the material to make it more fitting for all ages and today’s pop culture.
The three actors — Jerry Sciarrio, Kaylan Martin and Robert Tombari — all have extensive comedic training as well as Shakespeare training, allowing them to create a top-tier show. Loomer herself has been directing since college, and has worked with children’s theaters, festival playwrights and directed a main stage play at the Spokane Civic Theatre.
In addition to the five September showings, Loomer’s play has also received a possible encore request from the parks to bring her show to the Downtown Fall Festival this coming October.
Overall, the Spokane Shakespeare Society is already impressing the community by creating a space for a new and exciting artistic feature in the Spokane area that people of all ages and lifestyles can enjoy in the beautiful parks of our city.