Tulsa's first outdoor Shakespeare festival happens Saturday, Aug. 28, in downtown Tulsa. But the name is a little misleading.
The Tulsa Shakespeare Festival, organized by Justin McKean, is actually one show -- William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet -- performed at the H.A. Chapman Centennial Green, at 6th St. and Boston Ave., at 8pm.
The troupe putting on the play also performed it at Woodland Hills Mall, Borders and Eloté Café & Catering in the weeks before the main event.
"The neat thing to me is that, half the time, when these plays were originally performed, that's how they did it," McKean, who directs, produces and acts in the festival, said. "Two-thirds of the other half, they did it in a park, like we are Saturday. And they occasionally performed in a theater space."
McKean, who says he has big plans for the festival's future -- plans that include turning it into an actual festival, with multiple Shakespeare plays performed in repertory throughout a few weeks or a month -- also says the point of the festival is to be audience-driven.
"A normal theater space, architecturally, tells you what your role is, if you're in the audience," McKean said. "It tells you to sit and be quiet and listen to the story being told to you. And if you're an actor, there's a reasonable expectation that the audience is going to pay attention to you -- because they have to.
"But if you're sitting like this in a bar, you have people walking in and out, talking to their friends, ordering food, eating. And in the middle of all that, you have this story to tell them, which means every second, moment to moment, you have to be compelling. You have to earn their respect and attention."
McKean said the scenes performed at Woodland Hills Mall didn't go as well as he'd hoped. There were too many distractions, he said, and while a group of shoppers gathered to watch a scene that involved a sword fight, the actors lacked an audience the remainder of its stay.
At Borders, however, the company's impromptu audience was attentive, with some shoppers sitting on the floor around the actors to watch the scenes.
At the time of this issue's publication, the group was preparing for its performance at Eloté, which happened Tuesday.
"I think it'll be different in a bar because people come to a bar to be entertained, whether they realize it or not," McKean said. "I think it'll work better here. It might not. It might fail miserably, and that's OK."
McKean is a longtime Shakespeare fan and said he chose the bard's work for his project, which he also sometimes refers to as an "experiment," because it is universally familiar and liked.
"There's something about these stories that really touches something in people," McKean said. "Everybody wants to feel melodramatic love, even dudes.
We'll lie about that, but everyone wants to feel over-the-top love for someone and have over-the-top love directed at us. And we get that vicariously (through Romeo and Juliet)."
But McKean doesn't see Romeo and Juliet as the tragedy that it's usually portrayed as.
"I think Romeo and Juliet is a comedy," he said. "Romeo and Juliet meet on a Sunday evening. They get married on Monday morning and consummate their marriage on Tuesday night. On Wednesday, Romeo kills Tybalt, and by Thursday, they're both dead. They just met four days ago.
"That's part of the appeal, but it's really almost like Drew Carey should be playing Romeo."
McKean also pointed to the play's other comedic elements, like Romeo's friends, the priest who marries him and Juliet, and Juliet's nurse maid.
"Really, the feel of the play is it's almost like a slap fight where, all of a sudden, someone gets their eye put out," McKean said, laughing. "It's like, 'Oh, crap. We were just messing around, and now someone's dead.'"
Romeo and Juliet stars Stephen Brown and Jenny Guy as its title characters, with Afton Nordean, Amy Luznicky, Brigid Kimery Vance, Drew Austin, Grace Cuellar, Jen Thomas, Jenni Plaster, Margaret Barnes, Mike McCarthy, Sean Stewart, Xavier Sagel and Corey Douglas rounding out the cast.
The performance is free and open to the public, and attendees are encouraged to bring lawn chairs and blankets.
The Midwestern Theatre Troupe, led by John Cruncleton, presents Women Behind Bars at the Nightingale Theater, 1416 E. 4th St., Aug. 27-28 and Sept. 3-4 and 10-11.
Written by Tom Eyen, directed by Cruncleton and set in Grennwich Village's Women's House of Detention, the play is a dark comedy that pokes fun at the 1950s women-in-prison exploitation films.
Its characters run the archetypal gamut -- the young innocent wrongfully imprisoned, the delusional and self-involved Southern belle and the mean, sadistic matron. The cast includes Angela Adams, Nicole Aquino, September Boles, Brittainy Boyer, Sara Cruncleton, Susan Dergoul, Cassie Hollis, Joseph Gomez, Liz Masters, Holly Steckelberg and Sara Wilemon.
Tickets are $10 and available by calling (918)633-8666.
Tulsa's city-owned Clark and Heller theatres will kick off their 2010-2011 seasons with a party Friday, Aug. 27, at the Henthorne Performing Arts Center, 4825 S. Quaker Ave. Actors will perform scenes from each group's season, and there will be food, drink and a silent auction. Tickets are $10, and proceeds benefit the Heller Council, which helps maintain operations throughout the year.
The event begins at 7pm, and tickets are available at (918)746-5065.
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