By COLIN M. STEWART
Tribune-Herald staff writer
The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster. … Strangely enough, it all turns out well.”
That’s how Geoffrey Rush’s character, theater owner Philip Henslowe, describes the theater business in the 1998 film “Shakespeare in Love.” It’s a characterization that Laura Caswell has kept in her thoughts while directing this year’s Hilo Community Players production of “As You Like It,” as part of the troupe’s long-running annual tradition of Shakespeare in the Park at Hilo’s Kalakaua Park.
For 36 years — making it the longest running Shakespeare in the Park tradition in the state — the park has served as the backdrop for a seat-of-the-pants style of “guerrilla theater” that stretches an artist’s creativity and makes for a wholly nerve-wracking — and altogether enjoyable — experience, she said.
“I’ve been working with them since 2002. I’m an 11-year die-hard fan,” Caswell said of her involvement with the Shakespeare in the Park shows. “It’s just so exciting and fun. … You’re rolling with the punches … creating something great out of it.”
For instance, there was the year that there was a power outage and the spotlights died in the middle of a performance, recalled Jackie Pualani Johnson, one of the founding members of the Shakespeare in the Park shows. Audience and cast members pulled their cars up to the edge of the stage area and left their headlights on to illuminate the action.
Then there was the year that an actor playing a major character in Titus Andronicus spent the night in jail, and longtime cast member John Kooistra had to learn and perform his role with little time to spare.
Homeless people wandering onto the stage during performances, ambulances roaring past during important monologues, car crashes at the corner of Kinoole and Waianueue, relentless downpours — you name a disaster, and it’s probably happened during a performance, Johnson said, but that’s an important part of what keeps the cast and crew coming back for more, year after year.
“It’s almost like a carnival atmosphere. It’s community theater,” she said simply, by way of explanation.
Hilo High student Charlotte McPherson, 17, said she too has been caught by the same bug that infects them all. While she may be young, she’s been a part of the community theater troupe since she was 4 years old, and the experience has yet to get old for her. The draw can be summed up in one word, she said:
“Volunteers. For sure. Without them, we wouldn’t be here, I think it’s the challenges that keep us all volunteering,” she said.
“As You Like It” was selected this year by members of the public in a contest, and the comedy lends itself very well to modern interpretation, Caswell said.
“We’ve decided to set it during the ’60s, the Summer of Love,” she said. “Audience members are invited come in their best tie-dye (shirts). In Shakespeare’s day, it was a play about a time of great upheaval, of change. Society was becoming dissatisfied. So it works. It lends itself to that time period.
“Also, part of the reason I wanted to direct was because the female character of Rosalind was one of the richest female characters ever. … She’s so likable, intelligent and funny.”
Australia native and astrophysicist Jessical Dempsey will take on the role of Rosalind.
“Everybody loves to take on roles like these. It’s one of the truly incredible roles. But you’ve got to be prepared,” she said.
Another major draw for this production is the wide selection of pop music favorites from the era, including songs by the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and the Young Rascals, to name but a few.
The stage, erected below the stately banyan tree in Kalakaua Park, forms a massive peace symbol around which the action takes place, Caswell said. And audience members are invited to sit right up to the edge of the stage, becoming part of the “theater in the round.”
Admission is free, and attendees are invited to come and become part of the tradition.
Friday, July 5, at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 6, at 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, July 7, at 2:00 p.m.
Thursday, July 11, at 7:30 p.m.
Friday, July 12, at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 13, at 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, July 14, at 2:00 p.m.
Thursday, July 18, at 7:30 p.m.
Friday, July 19, at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 20, at 7:30 p.m.
For more information abou the Hilo Community Players and their 75th anniversary season, visit hilocommunityplayers.org.
Email Colin M. Stewart at email@example.com.