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St. Pete Shakespeare returns to Williams Park

Bill DeYoung

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(Photo by Veronica Leone Matthews.)

Of all the immortal works of William Shakespeare, none lend themselves to live production under the stars quite as effectively as the comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The play itself is set in a magical forest, inhabited by fairies, and is rich in mischievous magic, mistaken identities, spiteful sprites and heart-pounding romance worth fighting – or conjuring – for.

Of course, the mellifluousness of Shakespeare’s poetic prose, for many, is magic enough.

“Hearing the language on the air, outdoors, is what makes it so special for me,” says Veronica Leone Matthews, founder of the St. Petersburg Shakespeare Festival. “I love to sit, and sometimes I don’t even watch, but I listen. I wanted to re-create that for the community.”

Matthews is co-directing 11 performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Williams Park, starting with a preview tonight (Oct. 25) and continuing nightly – more or less – through Nov. 11.

The show is part of Shakespeare in the City, a three-event collaboration with thestudio@620; Bob Devin Jones, co-founder and artistic director of the 1st Avenue South performance space, is directing.

“There’s something about doing it without a large set, or without a really obvious set, that’s kind of fun and interesting for people,” Matthews explains. “And that romance under the stars, you know? There are things with lights on them that just make everything a little more magical. And in Williams Park they already have lights on the trees, so it does give you that fairy-like experience.

“And the forest scenes … especially with Williams Park, there are just so many options for entrances and exits, for the actors to be wandering through the audience. Bringing the audience in that way. So it’s not that you’re just watching them up on the stage – they’re actually down, walking through the audience.”

Technically, of course, it’s A Mid-Autumn Night’s Dream, but October in Florida? Might as well be midsummer.

In the early ‘00s, Matthews had acted in American Stage’s Shakespeare in the Park series at Demens Landing; the company discontinued the series in 2006.

Matthews emerged eight years later from the University of South Florida, with an MLA in English and a burning desire to re-kindle Shakespeare in the Park for local audiences. She created the St. Petersburg Shakespeare Festival as a 501(c)3 nonprofit; many of the performers from the original series signed on. The initial shows were done in a smallish (aka “intimate”) outdoor space on the USF St. Pete campus.

“We outgrew that stage,” she explains, “and so we moved to Williams Park in 2017.” St. Pete’s venerable outdoor space was not only bigger, the better to fit growing crowds, it had grass for the sitting (the USF spot was bricked in). “There’s something special about sitting on the grass and watching, for that outdoor Shakespeare in the Park experience.”

Last spring, Matthews was awarded an Individual Artist Grant through the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance.

The cast of A Midsummer Night’s Dream includes numerous members of the St. Petersburg Shakespeare Festival repertory company, plus actors, musicians and dancers from the studio@620 family, and some relatively virginal thespians. “It’s important to me, and to Bob, to give actors a chance that might not have a chance in a different theater,” Matthews says. “So they can kind of build their resume a little bit with us. There is a lot of amazing local – really truly local – talent. I like to give those people an opportunity to try out Shakespeare with us.”

Performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Sunday, Oct. 25-Nov. 11 (no performance Saturday, Oct. 27). Admission is free; donations appreciated.

 

Cast

Hermia – Carmi Harris
Lysander – Amadeus Dameron
Helena – Erin Kaye Ellis
Demetrius – Edward Leonard
Theseus – Trevor Rockwell Salmon
Hippolyta – Elizabeth Jasper
Egeus – Greg Thompson
Philostrate – Cinda Goeken
Bottom – Chris Necker
Quince – Chad Jacobs
Flute/Fairy Ensemble – Jarrod Padgett
Snout – Julia Barton
Snug – Kody Hopkins
Starveling – Reuben Pressman
Oberon – Matt Frankel
Titania – Nadine Smith
Puck – Kylin Brady
Fairy Ensemble – Keesha Brundridge King
Fairy Ensemble – Miesha Brundridge
Fairy Ensemble – Brian Bristol
Fairy Ensemble – Luis Torres
Fairy Ensemble – Corinne Hidar
Fairy Ensemble – Olivia Conti
Fairy Ensemble – Kirsten Standridge

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