Now that I have your attention, let’s talk Shakespeare.
Again (I know).
Thing is, I made a discovery this summer, the same discovery that thousands of Angelenos make every June through September.
There’s free Shakespeare in Griffith Park, and it’s quite good. What’s more, this quite good free Shakespeare has been going on in our fair city for more than a decade now (albeit not in Griffith Park the entire time).
Let’s call this a rediscovery of sorts. My first exposure to the Independent Shakespeare Company came when I caught their production of Shakespeare’s “Henry V” at the Odyssey Theatre. A relative was in the production (OK, my brother Matthew, the actor) which meant that I could not impartially review the production. So I attended, applauded, and went on to limit my Shakespeare-going largely to the companies I knew: A Noise Within, Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, Old Globe Theatre, etc.
Fast forward many many years to the summer of 2013 when the good folks at LA Stage Times, asked me to write a state-of-the-company piece on ISC. The company had begun producing free Shakespeare in Barnsdall Park before outgrowing that space and moving to the site of the Old Los Angeles Zoo in Griffith Park. Every year, the ISC troupe builds a stage in the park and performs three plays in repertory. They sell t-shirts and cupcakes and somehow find a way to pay some of their actors professional wages through contracts with Actors Equity.
Go figure, the Griffith Park Free Shakespeare festival is actually free of charge. Parking: zilch. Tickets: don’t need ‘em. You bring a lawn chair and/or a blanket, food, libations and you settle in to an evening of general merriment with, this year, Oliver Goldsmith’s “She Stoops to Conquer” or Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” and “Macbeth.”
In so doing, you join up to 1,800 of your closest Griffith Park-going, classic-loving, picnic-munching friends. Because as you could probably have guessed, when something is offered for free and that something is of any quality, that something will be accepted.
I visited thrice, taking in the first half of “As You…” on a Thursday, the first half of “Macbeth” on a Sunday and returning for a Saturday night production of “As You” which I viewed start to finish. In conducting my research, I spoke to veteran theatergoers and to folks who came out entirely for the atmosphere. Some had been referred by a hiking group and didn’t even know what was playing.
I shared my all-are-welcome theater experience with senior citizens and with children who could not yet walk let alone understand Jacques’ “Seven Ages of Man” speech. Dogs were in the audience. Coyotes were in the foothills. The setting is magical. Word to the wise: if you go, think about getting there with enough time to plant yourself close to the action. Acoustics get spotty the further back you sit and you will be pushed back if the crowds are large.
Which they will be this weekend.
This weekend is your last shot for the summer of 2013. “As you Like It” has performances tonight and Sunday and “Macbeth” is Friday and Saturday. Curtain time is 7 p.m.
If you go, do the right thing and leave a little something in the donation jar.
That’s Griffith Park with parking by the carousel. Follow the signs to Free Shakespeare.