Celebrating 20 years of the Bard

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By Mark Johnson

When the Noblesville Cultural Arts Commission opens its production of “Romeo and Juliet” on July 26, it will be making Noblesville history. This summer’s production will mark the 20th anniversary of the commission’s “Shakespeare in the Park,” Central Indiana’s longest running annual event featuring the works of the Bard.

During those 20 years, the productions have spanned the width and breadth of William Shakespeare’s literary plays: comedy, tragedy, history plays. Hamilton County historian David Heighway remembers the inaugural production from 1993.

“It was ‘A Mid Summer’s Night Dream,’ he said. “We’ve also done the play twice since then.”

Heighway said the popularity of the annual presentation is due to Shakespeare’s poetry, honor, laughter, magic and love.

“Since the first production, it’s been steadily popular,” he said. “Attendance varies from year to year, usually depending on the weather. The great thing about a production this size is that it’s light on its feet, light on the expenses. It runs on its own steam.”

Now entering its third decade, Heighway said performances are for the family and audience members of all ages.

“The relaxed audience atmosphere in combination with modern explanations make the performance understandable even for those people unfamiliar with Shakespeare. It is all part of a fun and memorable event,” he said.

For director Ryan Shelton, the production is all about the fun. During a Tuesday evening rehearsal, Shelton took time between scenes to discuss the challenges of staging a production, the significance of just the right cast, and the best parts of “Romeo and Juliet. Sporting a “Star Wars” T-shirt, Shelton is enthusiastic, energetic, and cordial.

“It’s quite an honor to work for something that means so much,” he said. “It feels good to be able to give something back to the community.”

When asked about the challenges of mounting a production of this sort, Shelton paused for a moment.

“The key is that they don’t seem like challenges,” he said, thoughtfully. “It’s a matter of finding the right cast, finding the right people. From there, it becomes an adventure! We get a great cast, and my challenge is done. For this play, we have as good a cast as you can have. It’s certainly as good a cast as I’ve ever worked with. That is where the challenge comes in, the actors challenge themselves and challenge each other. It becomes collaborative. Actors understand how to push other actors.”

“We wanted to do something special for the 20th anniversary of Shakespeare in the Park,” he said. “That’s why we chose ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ Sometimes, people forget just how well written ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is. There is just so much there, that sometimes people don’t catch the little moments.”

What are those moments that Shelton hopes the audience catches? What is it they he hopes the audience will take from this production of one of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies?

“Well,” he said, “I hope that when they leave, they feel like they have really experienced ‘Romeo and Juliet!’ They’ve witnessed the greatest play in the English language and that they have lived in that world for two hours!”

Heighway has similar hopes.

“I hope that they leave knowing that we have the capability to stage productions such as this,” he said. “We want the audience to understand that this is free, family-friendly, casual and comfortable. To go, relax, and enjoy.”

For more information about the Shakespeare in the Park and the Noblesville Cultural Arts Commission, visit www.noblesvillearts.org.

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