Green Stage

Washington / Aug. 16, 2012 / by The Team

The summer is a time to be spent outdoors, enjoying local parks, walks and scenery. In Seattle, Washington, Green Stage is providing local residents with even more reason to venture outside on a sunny weekend by putting on free performances of Shakespeare plays in the local parks. 

Managing Director, Ken Holmes explains, “we do free Shakespeare in the park that's open and available to anybody who wants to come and see a play.” Since starting in 1989, “we've done all but two shows in Shakepeare's canon and now we reach about 10-12,000 people a year.” 

Green Stage produces two shows each summer: “this year it's Henry VIII and Taming of the Shrew - each ones does 18 to 20 performances [with] generally one or two performances in every park.” 

Using the park as their stage allows their performance to be seen by as many people as possible and lends a magic to the show. There is nothing to separate audience from cast.  Actors pass through the rows of audience members throughout the plays and use a backdrop of trees and shadows as their set. 

The emphasis is on productions that will be accessible to everyone, no matter their age, background or financial status. “All of our shows are always free so anybody can come and see the play whether they've got the money to afford a theater ticket or not,” says Holmes.

It’s always a family-oriented production and, says Holmes, "we try to encourage people to bring the kids and they can bring picnics, bring whatever they want and it's very beneficial in a way that they're able to go out and not have to spend a lot of money for theater tickets.”

Green Stage also attracts people who were entirely unaware of their company. “A lot of people we find just wandering through the park, they see a show and they find out that they like theater and then they find out that they actually understood Shakespeare and then they come back for more.” 

Erin Day, Green Stage’s Artistic Director, emphasizes the excitement that comes from seeing people who have always been unsure about Shakespeare enjoy themselves. She loves “when people say 'Wow, I totally got that' because I think sometimes we teach people that it's hard and they won't get it and that's just nonsense.”

So you might ask, why Shakespeare? From a financial standpoint, the benefit comes from the lack of copyright on Shakespeare’s work. Day explains that “on a very base, practical level, the magic of Shakespeare is that it's free. There are no rights, there's no Shakespeare estate that you have to ask for permission or give money to.”

However, it is far more than that. Shakespeare’s “stories are really very basic and very simple. It's love, it's greed, it's hate … it's the simplest of things,” elaborates Day. Shakespeare can captivate the strengths and flaws in human nature, which are still the same now as they were when he wrote his canon. 

“Shakespeare just so happens to have been able to communicate that gooey essence perhaps better than any other playwright in the English language. And that's why people keep coming back to it,” Day emphasizes. 

That passion for the material being performed is evident within the cast, too. Their love of Shakespeare’s characters, worlds and plots contributes to their excellently emotive and captivating performances. The actors themselves are all non-professional and devote their spare evenings and weekends to learning and rehearsing the plays they love performing.

To further enhance the experience, Green Stage is introducing a new aspect to their performances: a question and answer session once the play has ended. The actors sit with the audience members who have stayed and answer any of their questions related to the play or Shakespeare in general. All with the goal of ensuring that people have the chance to understand as much as they can.

The essence of Green Stage can be captured by the words they have written on the front of their t-shirts: “Go see a play.” And that is exactly what they are trying to communicate to their audiences. Theater doesn’t need to be an expensive, inaccessible pastime for only a select number in society. 

Green Stage is trying to make theater going a natural choice for people “as part of their recreation so we want people to just enjoy theater in the same spirit that they go see a ballgame or go see a movie or just go to have a picnic.” 

And it works. Each year, more people discover Green Stage, and Shakespeare. “And then the next year, you see them again and they've gone and tried plays in other places and pretty soon they're buying tickets somewhere else and that to me is satisfying because then we're getting people engaged in the arts,” says Holmes. 

The company is driven by their love for the material and the joy that comes from sharing it. “For me, the reward is going to that first performance, the first weekend performance and seeing hundreds of people show up for a free show in the parks and they sit there, they laugh, they applaud, they have a great time.”

To learn more about Green Stage and see if they will be performing in a park near you, please visit their website or Facebook page