Shakespeare in the Park in Asheville, NC

Filed under: theater, Things to Do


Tod”s Tasties
An Elaborate Picnic

One of the things that drew James and me to Asheville originally was the strong arts, theater and music culture of the town.  And now that we have shepherded the Carolina Bed & Breakfast through its first full year we are finally finding time to avail ourselves of some of the many events on offer here.

This past winter, our inn along with the 15 other inns of the Asheville Bed & Breakfast Association decided we wanted to develop some programs and packages which  would be unique to the inns of our Association and exclusive to our guests.  So we got together with the management of the Montford Park Players and came up the “The Shakespeare Sensation”, providing an opportunity for our guests to enjoy an evening under the stars, and with the stars, at the Hazel Robinson Amphitheatre, including the chance to actually take part in the production!

As is usual, we like to try things before we recommend them to our guests, so this past Saturday, James and I, along with two of our friends, Jim and Chris,  bought tickets for “All’s Well That Ends Well” being presented Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings this July.

Our Reserved Seats

 As a part of the package, our guests are given a coupon for 15% off at Tod’s Tasties, a small local eatery known for its wonderful salads and sandwiches.  We stopped there first to pick up something for a picnic prior to the performance.  This is the easiest way to get a picnic together but as you can see from the picture above, some people take this much more seriously!  (And if you should chose to do so, James and I will do what we can to help you put it together).
Upon our arrival we were shown to our reserved seats–comfortable armchairs right in the center of the Amphitheatre.  There were bottles of ice cold water waiting for us, which was nice as we all know how hot this summer has been!  Also waiting for us on our seats was a copy of the script signed by all of the cast.  I think I need to get James to sign it as well as he and Jim opted for walk-on parts as part of our package.

Meeting Victoria:  Costume Queen!
A Trailer with Your Name on it?
There is a Costume for Everyone!

John Russell, Managing Director of the Players, met us when we arrived and took James and Jim backstage to get them fitted for their costumes and to meet the director.  In my role as photographer, I tagged along.

In typical theatrical fashion, the actors were gathered backstage in various stages of preparation.  They greeted the “boys” with friendly kidding (since it is a Shakespeare company, I suppose I should say ribaldry).  Victoria, the costumer,  and her assistant, Renee, suggested tights and a doublet would be needed, and asked that we come back to the trailer.  Jim had been hoping they would have a trailer with their names on it but it wasn’t exactly that way.  Nevertheless, appearances can be deceiving:  the trailers were full to the brim of carefully stored costumes of every sort and in short order James and Jim were kitted out as “Ordinary Soldiers”.

Meeting Scott, the Director

Signed Script

The Audience Starts to Arrive!
The Play Begins

Now that they had costumes (and roles), we met with  Scot Keel, the director, to discuss what (and how) they would be doing.  Scott gave James and Jim the choice of a number of scenes to take part in and even offered the chance of a line if they wished.  Because they wanted to see as much of the show as possible, they decided to be in one scene shortly after the intermission.  This meant that they could get into most of their costumes during the break, watch the play until the scene before theirs, then slip out, perform, change and return. I think they were also a little nervous to begin with but it was clear that the cast and crew were not going to let them make any serious mistakes!

Actors use the full area!

With everything set, we returned to our seats to enjoy our picnic before the show began.  The Montford Park Players is North Carolina’s oldest running Shakespearean Festival.  For more than 38 years they have been presenting free performances in Asheville and have received multiple awards for their productions.   While most of the actors are local, don’t be fooled into thinking that the acting is less than professional or the staging amateur.  The company’s facilities director, Kenn Kirby, came to Asheville from Los Angeles, where he did design and fabrication work for Walt Disney as well as Universal Studios.  The actors take their roles seriously and often have performed on other stages in and around Asheville.  In fact, the only real “amateurs” were our two walk-ons! 

Audience participation

Men in Tights waiting to go on!

On Stage at Last!
A Rousing Cheer!

It is noteworthy that last year almost nine thousand people attended performances at the outdoor amphitheater.  The company has expanded their season to five different Shakespearean productions at the Hazel Robinson Amphitheater between May and September, as well as three at their winter home in the Masonic Temple downtown. The year culminates with a traditional performance of Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol”.  It’s an ambitious schedule made possible by the dedication of the performers and the supporting crews.

Anyway, the amphitheatre began to fill up and a sense of anticipation filled the air.  The tradition of Shakespeare being performed outside goes all the way back to the original Globe Theater in London which was open to the skies above.  It has evolved over time to performances in countries around the world.  There is something special about watching the magic onstage as the sunset sets and the birds sing a final evening song. 

The actors make use of the full stage, the ground below and the wide aisles of the audience.  The ability to make entrances and exits easily through the crowd has always been one of the exciting aspects of an outdoor performance.  And, if it wasn’t enough that he would be doing a walk-on role, at one point James was handed a drum and instructed to watch and beat it along with the performer (I was quite impressed by his skill at managing the changes in tempo!).

Before we knew it, intermission had arrived and James and Jim went off to get in costume.  They returned with stories of trying to get into a too-small pair of tights, but I think that was just an excuse to get us to look at their legs!

When the appointed time came, they slipped away and appeared onstage carrying in the captured Parolles. (It turns out that when Scott told them they would be dragging in Parolles they thought he meant a number of prisoners–or “parolees” !).  The fact that they didn’t know exactly what was going to happen meant that they both listened intently and, as a result, acted and re-acted with extreme realism.

The smiles on their faces when they returned was proof of the fun they had and Chris and I were both very proud of our thespian husbands.

After the evening was over, we stopped by the concessions stand to pick up our “Free Shakespeare” tee shirts before walking home.  I would like to share with you a quote from Dr. Deanne Collins, a member of the Institute of Outdoor Drama who was a guest at the final performance of the 2009 outdoor season.  Her words express perfectly our feelings as we left the park. 

“Like me, you will walk away in the dark, in the grass, with a feeling that you have experienced something rare and wonderful.”

If you are interested in seeing a performance (and perhaps, taking part in one as well) you can find out more about the program our website specials page (click here).

All’s Well That Ends Well continues until July 31, The Asheville Shakesperience is performed during the interval before Julius Caesar takes to the stage August 12-September 4. (Imagine being part of the crowd cheering Mark Anthony, or stabbing Caesar).  The season concludes with Romeo and Juliet, performed October 13-23 onstage at the Masonic Temple.


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