Running In The Park With The Bard

Maybe it’s because I prefer my sugar sweet, my coffee hot and my ice cream cold, that I also prefer my Shakespeare stationary…that is, insofar as being an audience member is concerned.  Whether it’s a filmed, live or printed version of a work from that Literary Maven from Stratford-upon-Avon, the contemplative mode of physical inertia is crucial for a better appreciation of the Bard’s poetry. In the role of spectator, seated upon one’s absorptive figure of intellectual discontent, the fourth wall of theatre is bolstered by imagination and should be traversed only occasionally. In short, a theatergoer should sit down and pay attention.

The New York Classical Theatre is one of several acting companies that present various “Shakespeare on the Run” productions in major city parks.  In a day and age of harried people who read and run (if they read at all) and comprehend existence through such devices as sound bites, cell phones and Twitter, these productions are basically for the on the go person who continues to be on the go even while sitting down. Indeed, for frenzied individuals with wandering attention spans and looming anxieties who refuse to be restrained by the quotidian of conventional theatre.

In Manhattan, such restraints are lifted even before one gets in line because there are no lines: Central Park itself serves as the “theatre.” Performances begin at West 103rd Street on the lawn and utilizes footbridges, trees, rocks, benches and even The Audience as scenery. People can come as they are (even as they aren’t) via bikes, roller-blades or scooters (even dogs are allowed). Of course, it’s wheelchair and stroller (for fledgling Shakespearean aficionados) accessible.

A couple of years ago I attended an alfresco performance of King Lear. The “on the run” factor is intermittent throughout the course of the play. Instead of a curtain opening on the next scene, the next scene opens on a different stage…usually about 50 feet away. Approximately every 15-20 minutes, the audience follows the actors to different stages for new scenes of whatever play is being performed.

I hate to sound like a killjoy but I’m basically a traditionalist. While a little Shakespeare is better than no Shakespeare at all, it’s rather a disconcerting experience to ponder King Lear‘s startling lines of ingratitude and misplaced love drowned out amid a tidal current of flurried people, bawling children and barking dogs. That kind of theatre turns the like of King Lear and Shakespeare into just another day in New York City. In fact, that’s the very reason you’ll probably find me in attendance at the next Shakespeare on the Run performance, regardless of whoever happens to be running it, if only because I live here.

The Shakespeare on the Run in Central Park (now known as New York Classical Theatre, as of last year) website could be found here