I attended Shakespeare in the Park for the very first time on a warm, Wednesday night several weeks ago. The play was, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” a play I had seen several renditions of before, as well as the movie adaptation. This time was a completely different kind of experience.
I arrived slightly late after a meal with my friend who accompanied me to the play. The play is performed in Forest Park in a naturally formed amphitheater on the east side of the Art Museum. The hill slopes downward in a semicircle, much like an auditorium. At the foot of the hill they set up the stage. The hillside was packed with people sprawled out on blankets, sitting in lawn chairs, or lying in the grass. We met up with some friends who had settled down with a picnic blanket, strategically located near the food. The play was already underway, a little bit into the second scene. We had a good view of the entire stage despite being at the outer edge of the crowd.
Settling in, we slowly became immersed in the story. The warm, summer twilight added an element to the play that none of the other versions I’d seen possessed. The magic of the play matched the atmosphere matched the setting of us, sitting on a hill surrounded by trees and sky. I couldn’t believe that a place so peaceful, natural, and suspended in reality was nestled between my university and a city. For a while during the play, my friends and I all lay down and let the words wash over us while we looked at the stars. That night really felt like a world unto itself, and we were merely observers of something secret and wonderful.
This play is, of course, anything but secret. It is free and open to the public. Every summer the Shakespeare Festival St. Louis puts on a play for the entire month of June. This summer they had showings every night but Tuesday, and even weekdays, like the Wednesday showing I attended, were packed. There’s a “Green Show,” which features music and other forms of entertainment that precedes the play every night. Generally, the Shakespeare Festival puts on comedies for Shakespeare in the park. There is, very importantly, always food and refreshments (my friend got to try his very first funnel cake the night we went).
The showings unfortunately ended the last week of June. They have yet to announce next year’s play, but hopefully I will be around to attend. I grew up watching Shakespearean plays, and Shakespeare in the Park now tops the list of my favorite venues.