When the Bard goes for a stroll

Theater Department
By JOHNETTE RODRIGUEZ  |  August 11, 2010

LOVERS IN THE PARK M.J. Daly and Amos Hamrick in Dream.

Summer means Shakespeare performed outside.

Mixed Magic Theatre has taken this tradition seriously, and this marks the company's tenth year of producing works by the Bard in parks and waterside settings from Wickford to Pawtucket.

This time around, the troupe is presenting A Midsummer Night's Dream in the park beside the Towers in Narragansett on August 17 and 18, and on the lawn at Blithewold Mansion in Bristol on August 25 and 26 (all at 7:30 pm).

For Mixed Magic's new artistic director Jonathan Pitts-Wiley, who grew up performing in his parents' (Ricardo and Bernadet Pitts-Wiley) productions, Shakespeare has a certain allure in the outdoors.

"There are certain plays, especially Shakespeare's comedies, that play great outside," Pitts-Wiley says. "I think the language and the atmosphere are the essential and best parts of what theater is about, which is a community spirit.

"People getting together and playing make-believe, after a hard day's work — it doesn't have to go past that," he continues. "Just enjoy the language and people having a good time."

He mentions kids on bicycles, dog-walkers, or parents pushing strollers who recently happened upon Mixed Magic's free outdoor shows in Pawtucket and stopped, taken in by the colorful costumes or the actors' antics.

"The whole experience becomes bigger than the play," Pitts-Wiley says. "It's an escape, an opportunity to be entertained but also engaged. Even if you're not versed in Shakespeare, there are lots of comic moments that just look funny. How can you not laugh at the fights between the lovers in Midsummer?"

Introducing non-theatergoers to theater is one of Pitts-Wiley's main objectives for Mixed Magic: "If we want to get our message out, it's about the people we don't know — we are best measured by them."

And as he reaches out to raise the profile of this small Pawtucket-based theater, Pitts-Wiley is intent on "telling American stories that involve the whole fabric of society and the elements therein." To that end, Mixed Magic's first fall production will be a show by Asa Merritt titled Art of Attack, about two Russian brothers trying to reconcile over a game of chess.

"If America is what we say it is," Pitts-Wiley says, "then we really need to change the discourse and acknowledge that there are a lot of stories out there that need to be told in a multi-ethnic way, in which race or ethnicity is relevant to character.

"There are times when we do do black stories, and we are a company run by black people," he adds, "but we are not the new Black Rep. We're not necessarily existing in the same space. We want to tell the stories of the people out in the seats. If you don't see anyone who looks like you in a performance, you feel left out."

Pitts-Wiley encourages audience members for the Midsummer performances to "bring a lawn chair, a picnic, a bottle of wine" and, if the mood strikes, to dress in line with the Caribbean set and costumes of this particular Shakespeare production.

Outdoor theater, after all, is about more than what's happening on stage.

Related: Earnestly funny, Sweet inspiration, Play by play: May 28, 2010, More more >
  Topics: This Just In , Theater, Jonathan Pitts-Wiley, A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM,  More more >
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