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The audience gets into the act at Shakespeare in Clark Park

You can't say the Shakespeare in Clark Park team isn't emotive. / Jen Cleary You can't say the Shakespeare in Clark Park team isn't emotive. / Jen Cleary

Looking over the audience surveys that are handed out at every Shakespeare in Clark Park performance, artistic director Marla Burkholder noticed the same question being submitted year after year: “How can I get more involved?” Given the company’s commitment to putting on well acted and technically sound productions of Shakespeare, that’s always been a difficult question to answer.

“As Shakespeare in Clark Park has developed over the years, we’ve discovered that two things are really important to us,” Burkholder says. “One is really good art, from music to acting to technical proficiency as much as we’re able to get it in a completely unpredictable setting. But the other aspect is community, so we’re always trying to figure out how to give people a larger experience.”

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While you can’t just pull people in off the street and have them speaking in iambic pentameter, you can hand them a cardboard sword and tell them to go at it. So this year’s production of “Henry IV” will feature a battle scene with more than a hundred soldiers culled from the community and trained by members of Team Sunshine Performance Corporation. “It’s allowing for a level of spectacle that will contend a little more with the vast expanse of the park,” Burkholder says. “This is a huge experiment for us.”

Consisting of two epic-length plays, “Henry IV” proved to be a particular challenge for Shakespeare in Clark Park’s goal of boiling down the Bard’s work to less than two hours. The production’s subtitle, “Your Prince and Mine,” reflects the show’s approach as well as its community involvement aspect. “The central theme of this story is watching the journey of this wayward prince from his days in the pub wasting away his youth to this transition point where he rises to take on the role of a leader,” Burkholder explains. “So the piece is not entirely set in the contemporary world, but it has a definite contemporary thrust to it, so that we can examine what that looks like in his world and if it has any resonance for today.”

Knight Arts Challenge

Shakespeare in Clark Park and Team Sunshine decided to join forces more than a year ago and received a Knight Arts Challenge grant to mount the production. Team Sunshine co-founder and Clark Park veteran Alex Torra will direct, with Benjamin Camp serving as drill sergeant and Makoto Hirano creating an additional pre-show pub experience at nearby Ethiopian restaurant Gojjo, which offers a more intimate prelude to the large-scale show itself.

'Henry IV: Your Prince and Mine'

July 30-Aug. 3, 7 p.m.
Clark Park
Chester Ave. and 43rd St.
Free, 215-764-5345
www.shakespeareinclarkpark.org

 
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