Wednesday, July 03, 2013

"Sweet are the uses of adversity" -- KC Shakespeare's "As You Like It", part one

I delayed a trip out of town by a day to take advantage of the magnificently-awesome unseasonable weather we've been having. Feeling very much in the artistic mind the last few weeks, I went to the Heart of America's Shakespeare Festival production of "As You Like It" in Southmoreland Park - as fine a park name as you might e'er wish to see a Shakepearean play performed under. The temperatures were forecast to be mild and I went to my market and bought some picnic fixins to eke out a sandwich: tabbouleh with feta and (a bit too much) cilantro, and pistachio desert salad.

I parked in the nearby garage and hiked to the grounds. As I soon found, while they share some of the same pedigree, there were many differences between this Kansas City event and the one at the St. Louis performance of "Twelfth Night" I saw a month ago. Both are on sloping hills in a park right across from the local art museum. Both try to incorporate the trees into the set design. Both have Shakespearean tendencies? I know, I'm reaching, but you aren't supposed to use a list like this unless you can enumerate three things.

Where the St. Louis festival is located in a tiny portion of the sprawling Forest Park, Southmoreland Park is a small urban park carved out of a weirdly-shaped block between two roads. Though the park slopes gently southward, the surrounding streets are more steeply inclined, such that the north portion of the park (everything north of the blue lines on the map) is separated from the roads by rock retaining walls of increasing height, reaching 40 or 50 feet at the north end. So the only place to enter is at the separation in the blue line. And there stood people asking for money.

I do not begrudge their use of the bottleneck. As someone in the performing arts, I know how difficult it is to make money - any money. And nobody can really do much of anything except remind people over and over about how much they need money to put on free entertainment of good quality.

But as much as I understand it and give my approval, I don't like to be bothered about it. And having someone standing in front of me with a basket of money is bothering. As is the fact that if you donate on the day, you get a sticker of Shakespeare's head that says, "I gave." Ostensibly, or so the head collector said, "so we don't bother you on the way out." Feh!

Moving past the gate, there's a little concessions area with food available. A small curtain has been erected and the group of high school students is putting on the "what's actually happening in plain English" version. I arrived at about 6:40pm for the 8:00 show. Even so, there's a fair amount of people here, and I make my way into the rear of the seating area. I set up next to a lighting tower with my chair and cooler.

It's beautiful and the sun is shining. I might get a little burned (even though it's now nearly seven at night), but that's part of the charm of being outdoors - plus it generates vitamin D. Later I notice that the Mizzou chair has been joined by a KU one.

Nice to see that no one really cares about any of that. But soft! Do you notice how the lightning has changed? The sun has not yet set.

The sky looks pretty, but it also looks a little dark as the view slides to the right (north). Maybe I'll just check the weather...

Uh oh.

The spits of rain begin just as the play starts. The opening dialog between Orlando and his brother, Oliver, is interrupted by the stage director calling a halt as the tempo and size of the drops increases. They will resume "when it passes" which should be shortly. In the mean time, the crowd is thinning. People run for the exit, holding folding chairs upside down over their heads. People crowd under trees and - laughably - under the giant metal light scaffolds. As the thunder rolls and the downpour begins in earnest, I sit on my chair. I've relocated my glasses and my phone to a bag in the cooler, and I just sit as my shirt, shorts, socks, shoes, and head get soaked.

It is, I should point out, the first time in this process that I was glad that nobody was with me.

Monday (the day before) I had put up a notice on Facebook to see if anyone wanted to join me. It was late notice and Shakespeare is a difficult sell even if the actors are all famous and continuously handing out candy. But if I didn't mention it, I was assured to be by myself, so things could only improve.

I had no takers. Surprisingly for Facebook, I also received one regret, but only because she was raised with actual manners, not the collected clownish behaviors of a generation of sitcom characters.

Anyway, I was glad for their sake that nobody joined me. Were I dating someone, we would have been forced to plan ahead and consider possibilities, but friends met casually would be excused if they just ran from the rain. It takes a special sort of companion who will say, "Actually, I'm largely waterproof and I really want to see some Shakespeare. Let's just wait and not even bother to find cover." That's a conversation that - lacking acquaintances within earshot - I simply had with myself. Unanimous agreement followed. I sat.

After about ten minutes, the rain moved south and blue sky again opened overhead. The crowd was noticeably thinned from the pre-show numbers, but I was chuffed to see that the majority remained or returned from their cars. The theater majors who made up the crew squeegeed off the stage, examined the lights, and started the play over again from the beginning. People adjusted their seats forward to fill holes left by the less-hardy.


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