Actors shake up Shakespeare at Esther Short Park (with video)

Little rehearsal, lots of improv go into shows

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

Published:

 
photoAudience members react as actors with the Original Practice Shakespeare Festival perform "Comedie of Errors" at Esther Short Park on Sunday. The actors use the same techniques as the actors during Shakespeare's time. That means limited rehearsal, an onstage prompter and audience interaction.

(/The Columbian)

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Original Practice Shakespeare

Original Practice Shakespeare isn’t scheduled to return to Clark County this summer, but the group has numerous events scheduled throughout Portland. Visit the nonprofit’s website, www.opsfest.org, for the schedule.

A "Comedie of Errors" unfolded in Esther Short Park on Sunday afternoon.

There were identical twins — two sets! — entangled in a case of mistaken identity. There was a wife trying to determine if her husband had gone mad or was possessed by a demon. And there were Three Stooges-style "beatings" issued to wayward servants.

The drama all unfolded on the modest set of the Original Practice Shakespeare Festival's performance of "Comedie of Errors."

About 100 people gathered in a corner of Esther Short Park for the free, two-hour performance.

The actors performed in a grassy area shaded by trees. Audience members sprawled out on blankets and sat in lawn chairs in front of the tent serving as a backdrop for the show.

Actors with the nonprofit Original Practice Shakespeare Festival perform using the same techniques as the actors during Shakespeare's time. That means limited rehearsal, an onstage prompter and audience interaction. The performances have minimal sets and take place in the open air and natural light of local parks. The actors use rolled-up cue scripts indicating when they should deliver their lines.

The shows aren't perfect because, as the group's motto says, "Shakespeare should be a little dangerous."

Actors sometimes stumble over lines. They also lose track of the cues and ask the prompter (who wears a referee jersey and carries a whistle) for direction. Airplanes and jets passing overhead lead to midscene pauses, often filled with impromptu interpretive dances by the actors.

Those imperfections make the show better, said Vancouver resident Darrin Edgell.

"I wouldn't pay money to see a big production," he said. "I like when the actors screw up and jump into the moment."

The performance was a pleasant surprise for Darrin, his wife Traci, and their daughters Sierra, 18, and Alora, 17. They came across the show while looking for a shaded place to eat their lunch from the Vancouver Farmers Market. They saw the actors preparing and decided to check out the show.

They stayed for the entire performance.

"I love it," Alora said. "It's funny. I like the audience participation."

Darrin, who calls himself "Shakespeare stupid," said he enjoyed the show, even though he's not typically into Shakespeare. Traci, on the other hand, is a Shakespeare fan. She's gone to more formal productions and has attended the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Ore.

"Honestly, I've got to say, this is so much more fun," Traci said.

Tonni Cummings and Larry Sinesky, both of Vancouver, came to the performance after watching another Original Practice Shakespeare show in Portland last weekend.

"It's just fun," Sinesky said. "It's a great way to enjoy the day."

The actors' ad-libbing during the show helps to modernize the play, Sinesky said. William Shakespeare's "The Comedy of Errors" was one of the playwright's earliest pieces of work.

"It's a good way to introduce people to Shakespeare," Cummings said.

Kerry and Michelle Brady — and their 3-year-old goldendoodle dog, Henry — drove up from Beaverton, Ore., to catch the show. They try to attend three or four Original Practice Shakespeare shows a year. The Vancouver event was the first they were able to attend this year and marked the first time they had seen "Comedie of Errors."

"It was great like all their shows," Kerry said. "It was incredible."

While they aren't "Shakespeare people," the Bradys said the shows are fun and engaging for all types of people.

"It's good to have Shakespeare in a casual environment," Michelle said.

Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546; http://twitter.com/col_health; http://facebook.com/reporterharshman; marissa.harshman@columbian.com

View a video of the Shakespeare performance on The Columbian's YouTube Channel.