Grassroots Shakespeare really is fun entertainment for all

By Reed Farnsworth

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, June 9 2011 5:31 p.m. MDT

Oliver (Kyle Oram in preppy tennis outfit), left, and Orlando (Alex Underman) experience some sibling rivalry.

Reed Farnsworth

I wasn’t a believer, but I am now.

When I received Facebook event invitations to Grassroots Shakespeare Company's productions stating that it provided "free outdoor entertainment" and "fun for the whole family" I didn’t believe it. The terms "Shakespeare," "free," "entertainment" and ‘fun for the whole family’ don’t seem to belong together.

I was wrong.

If Shakespeare was taught this way in schools, it would be an extremely popular class.

Doubtful, I went to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to see if these claims were true, and they were. Despite arriving late, I found that young and old alike had no trouble following the story. The raucous laughter belied the intimate audience. Bawdy Shakespearean humor was amazingly inoffensive. Gore from sword fights, portrayed with exaggerated red fabric, was comical, not gruesome. Though chilly, no one left the 80-minute performance early.

I went early to “As You Like It” because I didn’t want to miss anything. The audience grew as picnickers and passers-by were sucked into the zaniness and couldn’t pull themselves away. I am now looking forward to “Romeo and Juliet” at Liberty Park and returning with family and friends to share all of these plays with them.

The Grassroots Shakespeare Company describes itself as “an association of actors exploring the original practice of Shakespeare’s stagecraft.” That is a loaded phrase. It means the actors perform, as they did in Shakespeare’s day, after few rehearsals and with no electrical equipment – just natural light, loud voices and live sound effects.

The cast fills the role of directors, choreographers, orchestra, stage crew, etc. Cast members are responsible for providing their own costumes and props. Poor actors on limited budgets find props and costumes in what they already own. If they don’t own it, they raid roommates’ closets, local Dumpsters, Savers or Deseret Industries.

This is why the audience enjoys such anachronistic items as a spray bottle used by Puck to disperse magic spray or a Boy Scout uniform worn by Rosalind when disguising herself as a young man. The portable stage with ladders for mountains and trapdoors for special entrances and exits make it possible to perform in various locations.

Alex Ungerman, who co-founded the company with Mark Oram and with a lot of help from Utah Valley University professors Christopher Clark and Kate McPherson, explained that most of the cast are UVU or BYU students who enjoy performing the free shows as a gift to the community and a chance to get some real-life experience.

Although the shows are free, donations are appreciated and are used to cover the company’s costs and help fund its Play in a Day theater workshops that are open to the public throughout the year.

With seven children and 11 grandchildren, Reed Farnsworth looks for inexpensive entertainment and educational activities for his family.

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