I’m going to tread on some slightly new review ground this month. It’s all for you, the theatre enthusiast, that I enter this experiment. I’ve wanted to review the Independent Shakespeare Co. Griffith Park FREE Shakespeare Festival since I’ve been attending, which is pretty much forever now. But, the dates have never been quite right to review one of their individual shows, so, instead I will highlight the festival as a whole. And if I get you there with picnic basket (or Trader Joe’s bag) in hand, it will be worth it.
Every summer in Los Angeles, people are invited to pack up a blanket, some snacks, maybe a short beach chair, and a sweater and head to The Old Zoo at Griffith Park to catch some Shakespeare. There are two plays per summer. They do not run simultaneously. The show begins at 7:00 PM but people arrive early (and you should go pretty darn early for the better-attended weekend shows) to find a good piece of grass and gather with friends. It’s Wednesdays-Sundays late June through early September, and it’s a really great tradition.
I will do nothing but strongly nudge you to attend this year, and every year, but there are a few less than desirable aspects, so let’s acknowledge them and get them out of the way. It can be hot. When you arrive at 5:30 PM for your pre-Shakespeare munchies and convo, the sun is still blazing and there are bees buzzing about. Terrible if you are allergic, like me. There’s not a lot of shade to be found. Plenty of parking is available, but it is a bit of a hike on foot to get to the stage. And yes, you will be carrying all your (previously mentioned) stuff. Officially there is no booze allowed in the park, because it’s a LA County Park! Do with that information what you will. Bring sunscreen, bug spray (I forgot to mention the mosquitos), an epi-pen and a flask to combat the negatives. I think that’s the end of the “bad news” portion of this review.
Here’s a good news/bad news aspect: It’s FREE. Of course you are highly encouraged to make a donation, but no one can make you (but oh that karma). What does that mean? It gloriously brings all kinds of people to the show, which I think is mostly fantastic. You *may* have to deal with some etiquette issues when the show is getting started. Some people are slow to realize their conversations should come to a close. Others may still be chomping loudly on their crunchy snacks a half an hour in. You may have someone plop down in front of you in a full sized chair. This happens when you offer Shakespeare to all, and I say it’s completely worth it when the sky grows dark, a hush falls over the people and the magic begins. It just takes a bit for everyone to get on the same page. Completely doable.
And now for the great news, the shows are consistently really good. It could be easy to assume that a free Shakespeare show in the park won’t be the best, and might be terrible. These guys (Melissa Chalsma, artistic director and David Melville, managing director, et. al) have got this down. Likely due to the popularity at this point, the quality of actors is sky high. There’s rarely a season where at least one show doesn’t appeal to me. This year they chose Measure for Measure (now closed) and The Two Gentlemen of Verona. I will be seeing both. You should catch “Two Gents”.
If you don’t like crowds, go during the week and early in the run. If you are a Shakespeare snob, knock it off, you’re missing out. If you are Shakespeare scared, just read the play synopsis before you arrive and you’ll be fine. There are very few times when Los Angeles feels like a small, cozy, artsy town and Independent Shakespeare Co.’s Shakespeare in the park provides one of them.
Independent Shakespeare Co. Griffith Park Free Shakespeare Festival
Two Gentlemen of Verona (playing now)
Old Zoo at Griffith Park
closes September 3
FREE (but bring a donation!)
all the tips/info you could possibly want: www.iscla.org