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Shakespeare in the Park

By Jennifer Nixon

This article was published February 27, 2014 at 2:49 a.m.

Bridget Rue (left) and Stephanie Holladay Earl are The Merry Wives of Windsor to Rick Blunt’s Falstaff in the American Shakespeare Center’s touring production of the Shakespeare play. Historic Washington State Park hosts the touring troupe during Shakespeare in the Park, Friday-Saturday.

Normally when people visit Historic Washington State Park, they step back into the 19th century. But this weekend, Falstaff and Iago will cause all kinds of mischief as the park takes guests all the way back to Shakespeare’s time.

For the fourth year, the state park welcomes the touring company from the American Shakespeare Center of Staunton, Va., as they present two performances and a day full of Shakespearean workshops for visitors.

Park curator Josh Williams first became acquainted with the center in 2003 when he served a summer internship in Lexington, Va., not far from Staunton.

“I went to see some of their shows and was just amazed at how well they performed Shakespeare plays,” he says.

In addition to their home base company, the center has a touring company that travels through the East, South and Midwest for six months out of the year. Williams began to look for ways to bring the troupe to Arkansas. Eventually, an anonymous donor offered the funding to make it possible.

The troupe will perform two plays in Washington this year: The Merry Wives of Windsor on Friday and Othello on Saturday.

Both performances begin at 7:30 p.m., preceded by what Williams calls a “minstrel entertaining” show with the actors and musicians performing a variety of songs that fit the theme of that evening’s play.

The park’s 1940 Work Projects Administration Gym provides a perfect setting for the performances, not set on a traditional stage.

“What they like to do is perform in the round with the audience fully surrounding them. They prefer not to be on the stage apart from the audience,” Williams says.

Instead, park workers set up chairs in a square formation around the performance space, creating a more intimate theatrical experience.

While reservations are not required, they are recommended and appreciated so the park can plan accordingly. The Williams Tavern restaurant will be open until 7 p.m. for those who want a pre-show dinner close by.

In addition to the two evening performances, the company will present several one-hour workshops for ages 14 and older during the day on Saturday: Speaking Shakespeare at 9 a.m., Shakespeare & Clothing at 11 a.m., Stage Combat at 2 p.m. and Shakespeare & Lighting Conditions at 4 p.m.

School classes and individuals are encouraged to attend, whether they have a longtime passion for Shakespeare or just a passing interest.

“I think it’s a great opportunity to see a live Shakespeare play with some of the best actors and actresses that do this type of work,” Williams says. “I think it’s a once in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

The Merry Wives of Windsor begins at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Othello at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the 1940 WPA Gym at Historic Washington State Park. Doors open and pre-show performances start at 7 p.m. Tickets and workshops are $5 each, $3 for children 6-12. Call (870) 983-2684 or visit

Weekend, Pages 35 on 02/27/2014

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