By David Waller, Contributor
This summer, a great political leader will be murdered by his close associates, and a war of retribution will break out. A prisoner shall be slated for execution, and the world will go mad as four men, as two pairs of doppelgangers, are sent on the ride of their lives. And you’ll get to see it all for free. This is Shakespeare on the Green, which will run from June 21 to July 8 at Elmwood Park.
For the 26th season of this long-standing Omaha tradition, Nebraska Shakespeare will present “Julius Caesar” from June 21 to 24 and on July 6 and 8, and will perform “The Comedy of Errors” from June 28 to 30 and on July 1, 5 and 7.
This year’s tragedy, “Julius Caesar” is the story of Brutus and Cassius; aristocrats who conspire to assassinate the eponymous Roman Emperor. Though they succeed, the Roman people seek retribution, and blood will be spilled. The play was last preformed by Shakespeare on the Green in 1997, Nellie MacCallum, director of marketing for Nebraska Shakespeare, said in a telephone interview.
The second play, “The Comedy of Errors,” is a more light-hearted case of mistaken identity. When merchant Egeon is sentenced to die, his son, Antipholus of Syracruse, and his son’s slave, Dromio of Syracruse, come to his rescue. But all is not well, for the two men each have a long lost twin brother, and hilarity ensues when no one can tell who is Antipholus and Dromio of Syracruse, and who is Antipholus and Dromio of Ephesus. This piece was previously performed in 1992 and 1999, MacCallum said.
The program began in the ’80s when the Rev. Don Doll, then chairman of the Department of Fine and Performing Arts at Creighton University, got the idea to create a cultural festival in Omaha, according to nebraskashakespeare.com. He made the suggestion to Alan Klem, assistant professor of Theatre at Creighton and a key member of Shakespeare in the Park (in Texas), who teamed up with Omaha World-Herald publisher Harold Andersen and Cindy Phaneuf (at the time assistant professor of Dramatic Arts at UNO) to create Shakespeare on the Green.
In the 26 years since, the program has grown and drawn the support and contributions of such organizations as Mutual of Omaha, Union Pacific and the program’s initial partners Creighton and UNO, according to nebraskashakespeare.com.
The rest of the funding comes from Bard’s Club and Friends of the Bard donations and the money collected during the events. Shakespeare on the Green serves as many as 30,000 people each year, according to the UNO news release “ShakespeareontheGreenPreps for 25th Season.”
Though “Julius Caesar” and “The Comedy of Errors” are the biggest events of the program, they are not the only ones. Nebraska Shakespeare also runs a summer workshop known as Camp Shakespeare – which runs from June 25 to July 6 – for children ages eight to 18. Participants in each of the three levels – Jesters (eight to 11), Apprentices (12 to 14) and Players (15 to 18) – learn the ways of the Bard, culminating in a performance at Shakespeare on the Green on July 6, 7 and 8, respectively. The program costs $175 per student, but MacCallum said it is well received by parents, especially for those who have seen their children grow through the different stages of the program.
Children who start as Jesters and make their way through the ranks have a stronger sense of confidence, can express themselves better and have an easier time interacting with both other children and people of other age groups, MacCallum said.
A more budget-friendly activity for younger audiences is “Shakespearience!,” an educational booth with everything from costumes, to games, to puzzles to coloring pages, MacCallum said. The program is often led by teachers, retired or in the public school system,and is a way to get children involved and give them something to do every night before the show starts.
Adults can indulge in Scholar Forums, pre-show seminars led by directors, designers and actors, who discuss the themes and characters of the plays, and professional actors, who will talk about their performance, what it means to be an actor and their approaches to Shakespeare, MacCallum said.
And if you’re feeling lucky, there are four different raffles to take part in: giving a donation at the Friends of the Bard level ($40 for an individual or $80 for a family) or the Bard’s Club level ($150 or more) yields a special gift, MacCallum said. There will also be a raffle that requires registration and can net you a Borsheims’ gift. Winning the $5 raffle earns you a framed print from Mangelsen’s Images of Nature, and winning a $10 raffle will earn you the grand prize of a trip to the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, according to MacCallum.
“The couple that won [the trip last year] went to see ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in Chicago this last spring and just adored it — just loved it,” MacCallum said.
And of course, there will be musical entertainment – featuring UNO’s Madrigali et al and the Heartland Community Flute Choir – food, and even a dog show on June 24 at 6:30 p.m.
Despite all these offerings, the program has run into financial difficulties, MacCallum said. Budget cuts have set up new limits on what Nebraska Shakespeare can do for visuals and the number of actors who can be hired.
“It’s not evident on the outside, but it does have an impact on the effort that everyone puts toward it,” MacCallum said. “We try not to cut what the people experience on the Green.”
Those who wish to help can give donations – those who give at the Bard’s Club level receive such perks as reserved seats, scripts and reserved parking (at $500 or more) – or volunteer as a Merry Bandit, which entails gathering donations, passing out programs, helping with raffle sales and generally spreading good will, according to the website. For more information on this and other opportunities to help, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We did a couple e-blasts looking for volunteers for the Merry Bandits, for the Friends booth, information booth and general overall help,” MacCallum said. “Boy, we would love more volunteers.”
Who knows what lies in store for the program next? Generally, the kinds of plays and the period they are set in are up to the directors, MacCallum said. This year’s “Comedy of Errors” will be set in the 1930s dustbowl and modeled after the television show “CarnivÃ le.” Two years ago the company did a musical of “Two Gentlemen of Verona.” There aren’t any plans for another such performance yet, but in the future, who knows?
“Anything is possible, but so far as we know right now it doesn’t look like there’s any musical adaptation of any play that we’re planning to do, at least not for next year,” MacCallum said. “And that’s about as far ahead as we see: 2013.”
Nebraska Shakespeare will be taking “Julius Caesar” on tour this October and will show “Titus Andronicus” and “Twelfth Night” for the 2013 season.
Whether you are a fan of tragedy or comedy, it looks like Shakespeare on the Green is shaping up to be an event with something for everyone.