I’ve had had the good fortune to have seen my share of Shakespeare plays. I’ve seen a few performed al fresco: Shakespeare in the Park in Central Park, the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Shakespeare in Rushton Park in Birmingham, but all those productions pale in comparison to what I saw the night of Oct. 8, 2021.
Director Marcus Lane, Costume Designer Emily Gill, Scenic and Lighting Designer Kel Laeger, Technical and Sound Director Kyle Moore and the students of UM Theatre Department have pulled off something truly amazing. Their presentation of “As You Like It” was a musical, theatrical and entertainment masterpiece. It was also a completely portable production, moving – props and all – from location to location for a total of 11 different natural stages around the Montevallo campus.
When I started off in the lobby of the Center for the Arts, I knew things were different when instead of getting a paper program, I scanned a QR code on an usher’s name tag with my phone. Soon after perusing the digital data, the production started not in the theater but outside. The audience was led outside by the balladeer, Kodi Mae McDearmont, and the ushers, to see the first scenes performed on the patio of the building. The lights and props were transported in carts and set up for the scene by the crew (who also directed traffic). Besides the ground-level lighting, the spotlights were either helmet-mounted on crew members’ hard hats or hand-held during the scenes.
Now that you know about the lighting, I know what you’re thinking: How did the audience hear the dialogue when the play is being performed outside? Well, the players wore microphones and personal speakers, and the audience formed a semicircle around the action. The scenes were proceeding perfectly when the actors paraded out of the performance area playing kazoos to accompany the guitar work of Amiens (Seth Harris). The audience was directed by the crew to follow what turned out to be the next venue.
And so it went throughout the night, scenes and venues being taken in by a captivated if not captive audience. The play was augmented by a variety of classic and contemporary songs, all performed by the ensemble with the audience often joining in.
The play was everything you could want from a Shakespeare performance, from the thoroughly innovative staging and contemporary music to ageless “Ages of Man” soliloquy by Jaques (Will Harrel). I look forward to the remainder of the theatre season with great anticipation.
Oh, in case you’re wondering how someone with mobility issues could take in such a performance, I did too, since a recent surgery has me rather immobile. Well, the director himself was ferrying a few people around in one golf cart and invited Cheryl and me to follow along in our own. It made the experience even more unique: Drive-in Bard with a moving venue. It was an evening we will not soon forget.
-Dr. Michael F. Patton