Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Intriguing week awaits Door Shakespeare


PHOTO: Shakespeare on the Road will travel to 14 Shakespeare festivals this summer. Project image

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – This is a big week for Door Shakespeare, which produces William Shakespeare plays under a massive maple tree at Bjorklunden on the shore of Lake Michigan south of Baileys Harbor. An international venture called Shakespeare on the Road will visit for 2½ days to soak in what Door Shakespeare does. Door Shakespeare is one of 14 Shakespeare festivals in North America being visited this summer by the project of The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and The University of Warwick.

A focal point will be Wednesday’s performance of “King Lear.” Scholars from Shakespeare on the Road intend to connect with company and audience members. That’s a tip of an iceberg for both Door Shakespeare and the project.

Amy Ludwigsen, Door Shakespeare executive director, heard of the venture when attending the Shakespeare Theatre Association annual conference in January at Stratford, Ontario, Canada, site of the illustrious Stratford Festival. (For a feature on the 2013 festival, see http://www.wearegreenbay.com/story/warren-gerdscritic-at-large-stratford-thrives-on-its-world-class-theater-festival/d/story/jRPawpr0jEGKqsMiE8-TxQ).

“It will be an interesting learning process on both sides,” Amy Ludwigen said. “There’s still this amazing thought for them that theaters pop up in the summer strictly to produce Shakespeare. It’s something that’s still pretty incredible to everyone.

“In a community like Door County, which has an amazing local community but also this huge tourist community, I think it’s going to be really interesting for them to see the dynamics of both…

“Part of my job is to come up with an itinerary for them to get to know Door County. The arts scene and the cultural landscape here are so rich, and I think that’s going to be really impressive for them. Us being and outdoor experience is going to be really interesting for them. They’re going to the Utah Shakespeare Festival, so they’ll get to see outdoor theater there, but I think ours is really unique. Where we perform and getting to know that space could be really interesting for them.

“For us, we’re interested in learning more about the project and learning more about their travels and what they’ve been through and what they’ve seen. It’s just broadening that scope of how powerful and how huge the tradition of producing Shakespeare is and how varied it is.”

The Shakespeare on the Road folks are seeing vast differences.

Amy Ludwigsen said, “They’ll go to Montana, where it’s all state-funded, free Shakespeare in the park, a traveling tour company, to Oregon, which is a huge producing theater that just won a Tony Award and has several stages. And then they’ll be coming to Door Shakespeare, where we have this small, enchanting theater in a garden. They’ll really get to see all the different aspects, the different landscapes, environments and atmospheres and patrons from 5,000 down to 180 (at Door Shakespeare). They’ll get to see so many experiences, but I think that’s really what they are aiming for, too.”

Much of the activity has to do with anniversaries. Amy Ludwigsen jumped on board the project in part because of them.

She said, “I think that this is a real interesting time for Door Shakespeare right now. As we are kind of carving out a new path and strengthening our identity, I thought if we put our name on a map of a bigger picture of Shakespeare and how Shakespeare’s not just in Door County, it doesn’t happen just at summer festivals, it happens all the time across the globe and these are very important anniversary years. 2014 is the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, 2016 being the 400th anniversary of his death. So Shakespeare’s really prevalent right now. It’s very much into the news, it’s on stage, it’s on film. These are really important years. They’re very important years for Door Shakespeare, too. I figured to make this connection and put us in this kind of community of festivals that happen every summer in North America would be really important for us and to get us on this map would be a really big step forward.”

Door Shakespeare has been around since 1995. The company usually puts on two plays a summer. This year, along with “King Lear,” “The Comedy of Errors” is running in repertory until Aug. 16. Info is at www.doorshakespeare.com. (My review of “The Comedy of Errors” is at http://www.wearegreenbay.com/story/d/story/critic-at-large/25002/jWE85zrqO0avF5ga2INmww. My review of “King Lear” is at http://www.wearegreenbay.com/story/d/story/critic-at-large/30192/IDLwogbgRUyMf_EoKXwx5Q.) The company developed in fits and starts and advanced under the guidance of previous leaders Suzanne Graff and Jerry Gomis, including in the face of health problems. This is Amy Ludwigsen’s second season as executive director.

One of Amy Ludwigsen’s goals is “more presence in the larger network of theaters that produce primarily Shakespeare. And again, affirming what we do and where we do it. All of the archival footage that they (Shakespeare on the Road people) take – all the interviews that they have with community members, members of the company – will live in the Birthplace Trust Museum in Stratford-Upon-Avon (in England). Even joining the Shakespeare Theatre Association and joining this larger professional community that all work to inspire and continue the tradition of Shakespeare was really important for us, to broaden the lens and broaden the scope and figure out how we do what we do and why we do it here. I think this is all part of that growing process.”

More on the project is a www.shakespeareontheroad.com.


Now, to William Shakespeare. His writing is more than 400 years old, from another country, in words that are sometimes archaic. And yet there are Door Shakespeare and a lot of other places still presenting his plays. What is it about Shakespeare that connects?

Amy Ludwigsen said, “I think all the resonance lies in the humanity of the stories and the situations in the context that we still find ourselves in today. When you boil everything down in Shakespeare, this is the foundation of so many stories that we see on screen, on TV, in musicals. So much is adapted from the work of William Shakespeare. So much of what we say, whether we know it or not, is his words. So it’s still really resonant because the situations are so resonant…

“Our keynote speaker for the annual conference, Antoni Cimolino, the artistic director of the Stratford Festival, said, When you present Shakespeare, you have a finite canon. You have this many stories to tell, and when you’re going to tell them more than once, you have to know why you’re telling them and why are these scenes still relevant today. Is it because the political climate of where you’re producing them? Is it because of what’s happening in the world that our audience is coming from? Because these basic themes – love, family, war, politics – also exist, and they exist in maybe different ways now and in different relevance… but it’s still what we’re going through today and what we deal with on a daily basis. Those relationships, the context, the culture, atmosphere, environment – all of that is still very much the same. So I think that’s why we connect to it.”

Amy Ludwigsen was speaking excitedly, just off the top of her head.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about it. It’s something that when you chose to do Shakespeare. It’s not in the box. We’re not writing contemporary plays where people are, ‘Oh, look at everyone on their iPhones.’ We are performing work that’s been studied. I have study group that meets on Mondays. We talked about it. Producing Shakespeare is really interesting because people have read it. They’ve already had an experience with it before they come to the theater, unlike producing new works…  We deal with a playwright – because he’s so well known because he’s stood the test of time in so many different ways – that people have had an encounter with Shakespeare probably in high school or in college in a language class. How does that affect them buying tickets, how does that affect them understanding and enjoying plays – getting there in the first place? It’s a really interesting process.”

Door County has strong ties with one of the leading Shakespeare centers, the Globe in London, England. That theater was inspired by American actor and director Sam Wanamaker who had ties to Peninsula Players Theatre near Fish Creek. (See my piece on him at http://www.wearegreenbay.com/1fulltext-news/warren-gerdscritic-at-large-a-favorite-story-early-peninsula-players-actor-connects-to-world/d/1fulltext-news/rQu2ev6Lf0--eMr4qTuZkg.) The Globe became such a success that this year the complex added the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. (See my piece on that at http://www.wearegreenbay.com/1fulltext-news/d/story/critic-at-large/18945/hqVQ67y7K0iOwSDHtHRYCw).

It seems there are a lot of Sam Wanamakers (maybe a Samuel or maybe a Samantha) in the world today. Amy Ludwigsen found a bunch of them in Stratford at the Shakespeare Theatre Association.

She said, “We all want this tradition to stick around and classical theater and Shakespeare to be part of where we come from. It was so helpful to be in a room with representatives from the 125 theaters that are members and see how we can best do that and what we can take back to the communities that we’re working in and what will work and what will serve them best.”

You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air features on WFRV between 6 and 8 a.m. Sundays.

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