Actress Martine Gray rehearses the role of Ursula in the Shakespeare play “Much Ado About Nothing” for this year’s Piknik Theatre, which will begin Friday with an original piece at Spring Creek Park. The company is scheduled perform the Shakespeare play at 6 p.m. Saturday in West Lincoln Park.

Photo by John F. Russell

Actress Martine Gray rehearses the role of Ursula in the Shakespeare play “Much Ado About Nothing” for this year’s Piknik Theatre, which will begin Friday with an original piece at Spring Creek Park. The company is scheduled perform the Shakespeare play at 6 p.m. Saturday in West Lincoln Park.

Steamboat's Piknik Theatre kicks off with original play and ‘Much Ado’ rendition

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Schedule

Today: “Civilisation” at Spring Creek Park

Saturday: “Much Ado About Nothing” at West Lincoln Park

Sunday: “Civilisation” at Yampa River Botanic Park

Wednesday: “Much Ado About Nothing” at Yampa River Botanic Park

July 15: “Much Ado About Nothing” at Spring Creek Park

July 16: “Civilisation” at Spring Creek Park

July 20: “Much Ado About Nothing” at Bud Werner Memorial Library

July 22: “Civilisation” at Spring Creek Park

July 23: “Much Ado About Nothing” at Spring Creek Park

July 24: “Civilisation” at Bud Werner Memorial Library

*All shows are free and begin at 6 p.m. Visit www.steamboatthea... for more information.

— Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” could actually be about anything. And for this summer’s Fourth annual Piknik Theatre Festival, it’s about a wildly raucous nautical culture in the 1940s.

Think campy sailor suits, maidens in distress and giant, garish acting under the direction of festival Director Stuart Handloff.

“It’s always important to make Shakespeare relevant,” Handloff said about choosing a context for the comedic classic. “The themes can apply across the board.

“It’s not theater for the elite, it’s theater for the masses. And that’s what Piknik Theatre is about.”

The outdoor theater festival kicks off this weekend with three performances and continues Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and some Sundays for the next two weeks.

The festival is a collaboration among five professional actors from a theater school in New Zealand and about 10 local actors of varying levels of experience who work alongside the Kiwis.

For the first time, the troupe will travel to Denver for two performances of “Much Ado About Nothing” at the Denver Botanic Gardens on July 17, in addition to 10 Steamboat shows in various outdoor settings such as Spring Creek Park, Yampa River Botanic Park and West Lincoln Park on Saturday after Art in the Park.

Tyler Hutson, a Steamboat Springs High School graduate who just moved back to town, is participating in his first Piknik Theatre. He only started acting on stage during his senior year of high school. Now, he says, he’s addicted to the rush and excited by the opportunity to work with the Kiwi actors and learn about their culture.

“There’s this energy, it’s awesome,” he said. “Especially since they’re such skilled actors. It’s like a crash course in acting, just watching them move.”

“‘Much Ado,’” he said, is like nothing he’s ever done.

“It’s very free; we create our own blocking,” he said. “We’re working off each other.”

Kiwi Felix Perval agreed.

“It’s so fun, it’s so different, it’s so over-the-top,” he said.

In addition to the traditional “Much Ado,” a smaller cast of about six will perform “Civilisation,” an original play devised during the past three weeks by the cast. A spin-off of last year’s devised play, “Colonisation,” the new work chases down the same characters 100 years later. The plot centers on the colonization of New Zealand by the British, but the themes are driven home by a wealth of robust characters.

“It’s set around colonial times, so you get to laugh at the stereotypes of the English and the Scottish,” said Kate McGill, of New Zealand. “It’s funny, but it gives you food for thought.”

The process of devising the play as a cast is appropriate, she said, because the concept of Piknik Theatre is based on collaboration.

“It’s about being in a park with a bunch of people eating and drinking wine,” she said. “It’s a shared experience.”

To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email ninglis@SteamboatToday.com

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