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Shakespeare heads outdoors, with some timely political drama

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: MILES VANCE - Titania (Sara Fay Goldman) sleeps while her fairies dance in Experience Theatre Project's production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' at The Round in Beaverton on Friday, June 24.Lo, tradition wafts solftly through Portland's nature, with gentle, warm summer nights graced by fair ensemble, hastening a season of performance that spills into the eve' beginning this weekend.

Portland Actor’s Ensemble and Original Practice Shakespeare Festival will kick off Portland’s annual Shakespeare in the Park event with performances of The Tempest in Gabriel Park and Coriolanus in Pettygrove Park.

Performing Shakespeare outdoors provides a different atmosphere, setting and experience that cannot be recreated indoors.

Shakespeare plays have a long-standing tradition of being performed outdoors, says Patrick Cox, the producer for actor's ensemble "Coriolanus." “Outside is a set in itself,” Cox says. “There’s something beautiful about seeing a production outdoors that uses the space that it’s in.”

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: MILES VANCE - Theseus (Shaun Hennessey, right) shares a smile with Hippolyta (Valerie Asbell) in Experience Theatre Project's production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' at The Round in Beaverton on Friday, June 24.Brian Allard, Original Practice Shakespeare Festival artistic director, says he enjoys the “open elements” of working outdoors and the accessibility it provides the audience. An outdoor performance gives the audience the ability to come and go as they please and it’s also a surprise for people who happen to discover the play while walking by, says Allard.

All of ensemble and festival's Shakespeare in the Park performances are free. Both nonprofits receive donations and grants from companies and fans, which contribute to keeping the event going every year.

“There’s not a lot of good opportunities for families to come see live theatre without paying a lot of money,” Cox says. “We continue to make it free so everyone has the chance to enjoy these productions.”

COURTESY OF CASEY CAMPBELL/BAG & BAGGAGE PRODUCTIONS - Cassier Greer will play the title role in Bag & Baggage's all-women production of 'Coriolanus' this summer.

All-women cast

Other companies producing plays for Shakespeare in the Park start their performances soon. Bag & Baggage Productions will start its performance of Coriolanus at Hillsboro Civic Center on July 7.

Scott Palmer, the founding artistic director of Bag & Baggage, says its performance of "Coriolanus" — the first for his company — will be an all-women cast this summer.

In the time of Shakespeare, women did not have as many opportunities as men to play iconic lead roles, says Cassie Greer who is playing the lead, Coriolanus, for Bag & Baggage this year. Greer says playing a male lead gives her an opportunity to “explore text and stories that are iconic and dramatic in language and thought.”

Later this summer, Willamette Shakespeare will team up with the actor's ensemble to stage Love's Labour's Lost as Stoller Vineyards.

B&B's selection of "Coriolanus" makes it the most performed Shakespeare play this summer in the Portland area. Although not one of The Bard's most famous works, it is known to be “his most political play,” says Cox — no doubt a consideration with this year’s presidential election.

“People will be shocked to see the politics being talked about today are the same as the politics being discussed back then,” Cox says.

Palmer agrees it is a fitting play for the year of an election. “It is a really great title for our current political environment,” Palmer says. “It’s about family dynasty, arrogance and rigged elections.”


By Jupiter! Forget not these performances

• The Portland Actor's Ensemble's next performance of "Coriolanus" will be on June 30 at 7 p.m. at Pettygrove Park. A schedule of performances can be found at portlandactors.com

• The Original Pracitice Shakespeare’s next performance of The Tempest will be on July 3 at 2 p.m. at Cathedral Park. A schedule of performances can be found at opsfest.org

• Bag & Baggage’s first performance of Coriolanus will be on July 7 at 7:30 p.m. at Hillsboro Civic Center. Tickets are $20. Details and a schedule of performances can be found at www.bagnbaggage.org

• Willamette Shakespeare, partnered with actor's ensemble, puts on its first performance of Love’s Labour’s Lost on August 5 at 7 p.m. at Stoller Vineyards. A schedule of performances can be found at www.willametteshakespeare.com