Image: Shakespeare in the Park is back

In the bowl of Clark Park, audience is engaged by the action!

Members of the community gathered at Clark Park to attend the widely sought return of Shakespeare in the Park. The grounds of the “bowl” were transformed into a theater and visitors filled the green bringing blankets, chairs and some even brought their dogs, to enjoy the production of Pericles, Prince of Tyre.

Each year the community anticipates these Shakespearian productions which were cancelled last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but this year, they were back and received a warm welcome.

“When you see the show itself, it is laid out to specifically reflect the idea of a three-ring circus with three sections of a stage,” said Katlin Chin, Circus director, and herself, a performer in the production.

There were acrobatic performances which utterly enhanced the excitement of the play.

“It’s more about how we could use the circus and the extraordinary physicality of the work that is happening to further the story and to be able to bring the immediacy…of what’s happening to Pericles and the other characters in the story,” said Chin.

On the set were aerial silks used throughout the play and props which the stage crew painstakingly transported each day of the performance, including the stage, lights, sound equipment, aerial silks all which successfully gave the illusion of being transported in time.

But unlike traditional theater, the performers of this play had to focus in an uncontrolled environment where cars went by, kids played in the playground and basketball players rough-housed on the basketball court only feet away from where the play was being performed.

“To be perfectly honest, this is probably one of the most intense productions that I have done, there’s a lot of things that are constantly happening ” said Chin who began her career as an aerial performer outside, so she came equipped with the experience to pull it off.

“I’m very experienced with working outdoor events and I think that is kind of why I was brought on for this production, because I’m used to working in extraordinary circumstances and  understanding weather, wind, rain, lightening, mud and being able to understand what’s okay and what’s not okay,” she said.

Safety was a major concern, and a lot of training went into the production.

“There are some actors who came in already having some pre-existing knowledge of circus content or at least some, and some of them, in time, learned how to do this,” Chin said. “For me, any of the aerial work feels very good, it feels like home. Being able to be on my rig and in my space, performing are for me the most comfortable moments of the show,” said Chin. “Any time I have to do verbal characters, that for me is terrifying.

The production director for the show, Carly L. Bodnar, was first contracted to direct the performance in 2019. She was ready to go when Covid  shut the nation down.

“It’s been over two years coming and this has actually been, for me as a director, one of my bucket shows that I have been wanting to direct for a very long time,” said Bodnar. “It’s been about 16 years that I have wanted to direct this piece,” she added. “I think Shakespeare is so interesting. There’s a bunch of things I really like about Shakespeare. I think Shakespeare really puts humanity on the stage,” she said.

Shakespeare’s work is much loved, but some can find the language intimidating. Bodnar understands this and one of her goals is to make the work of the Bard (Shakespeare) relatable.

“I hear a lot of people who say they are ‘Shakespeare impaired’ or that ‘it feels like a different language’,” said Bodnar.

“Something I like to always do… is to make it as clear as possible so maybe you hear a word and you might not know what it is, but everything around it, the actors, the story telling, the visuals are helping you follow the journey.”

“I was also interested in the challenge of how to take a Shakespearean play that is not usually done and really making it a piece that modern audiences can relate to and feel,” she said.

The audience response to the scenes in the production made it clear that not only did the audience follow the story but was very much captivated by it as well. Bodnar met her goal.

‘Pericles, Prince of Tyre’ is one of the most challenging Shakespearian plays to perform because Pericles’ journeys and changes of location requires lots of props and scene changes.

Bodnar says that the play is very relevant for our current time. “I think the beauty of this piece which really hit me a lot more in 2020 is that it is a story of how a family comes together, meets and is torn apart, and they think that people are dead, that they are never going to be seen again and 15 years later they get back together.”

“So, it is this really beautiful reunion play that just hits in a different way after the year of 2020 where we all missed people and things in our lives and now, we’re still on a rocky road out of the epidemic as we’re getting to reconnect with people. I think it really started hitting my heart in a different spot. . . this story of  loss and grief and then reconnection.”

Pericles, Prince of Tyre played at Clark Park from July 28th – August 1st.

In addition, for the first time, Shakespeare in the Park will host two additional performances.

In Kensington, ‘Perils Island’ will be performed August 13th - 15th at Harrowgate Park at 3455 Kensington Ave.

In Germantown, Germantown Plays Pericles Vernon Park, 5800 Germantown Ave. (Entrances on Greene St. & Germantown Ave.) August 28th - 29th, 2021

Pericles was presented by PNC Arts Alive

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