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Free Shakespeare Prepares for A Midsummer Performance


Free Shakespeare is back in action this summer. They hit a variety of stages last summer and were well received. So they're doing it again with performances at the Yellow Springs Antioch Amphitheater, Wegerzyn Gardens MetroPark in July, and in August they'll perform at Newcom Founders Park and at the University of Dayton's ArtStreet.

We wanted to find out what's been happening with the acting troupe since last year so we caught up with Free Shakespeare founder, Chris Shea at Wegerzyn as the group was getting ready for a run through of their latest production, A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Chris Shea: We had a really positive feedback last year. It was pretty overwhelming. We had a lot of families come. We had quite a cross-generational audience, and just a lot of people were very gracious and thankful particularly in Yellow Springs. They were happy to have Shakespeare back again.

Jerry Kenney: And lot of what happened last year led to some new partnerships this year?

CS: Yeah, being down at ArtStreet, we were basically neighbors with the Blue Sky Project and Peter Benkendorf, who heads that up and also heads up a group called Involvement Advocacy. We've partnered with Involvement Advocacy. They're going to act as our fiscal agent so we can accept tax-deductable contributions. In the meantime we're in the process of getting our own 501c3, but until we get that we have their help. They're very helpful in just spreading the word. I personally am involved in UpDayton, and so that partnership was just kind of a natural fit. They've asked me to come perform at some of their meetings, just kind of doing street performing stuff and putting it in a meeting format. It was kind of fun. To expose people to the language of Shakespeare is an opportunity that needs to be taken. There's still far too much mysticism and unattainableness about Shakespeare and his language and his works. You know that's why our logo is a Shakespeare mugshot. Yeah, we do shows for free, but we do them in such a way that hopefully it's easier to follow for the audiences, it's more engaging for the audiences. We really want them to be part of the show. They literally are our final collaborator. We can't do a show without an audience, and we're so grateful that people show up. We are so thankful that people have responded so positively with this.

JK: So tell me what else is going on with the troupe. Tell me about the make up of the performers.

CS: Sure. We've got a really diverse cast this year. The age range spans from 21 to 78, and we have all levels of experience. We have people that have worked with a number of professional companies. We have one gentleman who it's his first time onstage ever. We have another gentleman who hasn't been onstage in 45 years. We have a couple of Wright State students involved. It's really a magical group of people. The way this cast has come together and risen above the challenges that have been presented is really remarkable. I'm so thankful to have a group of people like that to collaborate with and to create this art that we bring to the community. It's a wonderful experience. I couldn't ask for more.

JK: So what's after this run. Do you guys kind of split up or do you start planning next year's performances?

CS: After we're finished this summer, we actually have a busy fall. On October 7th we're planning on doing a public reading of the complete works of William Shakespeare unabridged, not the 90 minute plate, Complete Works Abridged. We're going to read the whole cannon: 37 plays, 154 sonnets, the other poems he wrote. I think it's going to take about a week straight through. It's going to be a fundraiser for our company and for Relay for Life.

JK: Wow, how's that going to be formatted?

CS: I'm not sure yet. [laughs] That's part of the fun. It's a logistical nightmare, but we'll make it work. It's not rocket science. It's just reading out of a book, right? [laughs]

Jerry Kenney was introduced to WYSO by a friend and within a year of first tuning in became an avid listener and supporter. He began volunteering at the station in 1991 and began hosting Alpha Rhythms in February of 1992. Jerry joined the WYSO staff in 2007 as a host of All Things Considered and soon transitioned into hosting Morning Edition. In addition to now hosting All Things Considered, Jerry is the host and producer of WYSO Weekend, WYSO's weekly news and arts magazine. He has also produced several radio dramas for WYSO in collaboration with local theater companies. Jerry has won several Ohio AP awards as well as an award from PRINDI for his work with the WYSO news department. Jerry says that the best part of his job is being able to talk to people in the community and share their experiences with WYSO listeners.