Making Shakespearean ‘Magik’ in the Garden

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It's not just for kids, all ages are encouraged to come out and enjoy Shakespeare In The Park. Photo by Melanie Robinson.

It's not just for kids, all ages are encouraged to come out and enjoy Magik Theatre's Shakespeare In The Park. Photo by Melanie Robinson.

Melanie Robinson Profile“I think a good indicator of the support for this event is the fact that people stay. They could pack up and leave after intermission but they enjoy it so much they stick around,” said Josey Porras last night at the Magik Theatre’s Shakespeare In The Park (SITP) performance at the San Antonio Botanical Garden. “San Antonio doesn’t have a huge theater base, but people that do come and support usually end up staying.”

Porras is an example of the average arts-oriented audience member. With an artistic resume boasting little more than some theatre in high school, she didn’t regularly attend many performances or events. Now an intern at The Magik Theatre, she said, “I never knew this side of San Antonio. We have such a rich culture, but I didn’t know how big of a role theatre played.”

It's not just for kids, all ages are encouraged to come out and enjoy Shakespeare In The Park. Photo by Melanie Robinson.

It’s not just for kids, all ages are encouraged to come out and enjoy Shakespeare In The Park. Photo by Melanie Robinson.

The annual event has attracted over 50,000 individuals to the Botanical Garden since 2005. SITP was initially a partnership with ARTS San Antonio until 2009 when Magik took over as the sole presenter. The festival, which has provided employment for more than 50 local artists, has previously showcased productions of Macbeth, The Taming of the Shrew, The Tempest, As You Like It, Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night and Othello.

The festival began on Wednesday night and runs through Saturday, June 1. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the show begins at 8 p.m.

This year, Executive Director Richard Rosen has chosen A Midsummer Night’s Dream to commemorate Magik’s 20th anniversary.

“What better way to celebrate our past, present and future than presenting the first play we produced when we first took over Shakespeare In The Park? It’s filled with all my favorite elements; dreams, magic, love, fairies, power and imagination,” Rosen said.

From left: Magik Theatre actors Alex Berkowitz, Apollo Bradley, Sam Weeks, Sal Valadez, John Stillwaggon and David Ankrom perform Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" on stage at the San Antonio Botanical Gardens.

From left: Magik Theatre actors Alex Berkowitz, Apollo Bradley, Sam Weeks, Sal Valadez, John Stillwaggon and David Ankrom perform Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” on stage at the San Antonio Botanical Garden. Photo by Melanie Robinson.

The most obvious problem in choosing an outdoor venue, however, is working around (or through) Mother Nature. The unfavorable weather conditions throughout the day yesterday caused many to approach opening night hesitantly. The Magik Theatre’s Facebook posts before the event reassured audience members to bring a poncho, but that the show would go on.

Stepping through the gates before showtime, I was amazed to find no puddles or light showers. I had stumbled upon nothing less than a magical experience. The gardens offer a picturesque backdrop for one of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies, especially given the enchanted setting of this year’s play in particular. It was a bit windy but an overall perfect evening. The only problem? Be careful not to step on couples cuddling on blankets or trip over toddlers running around in excitement.

All smiles from an attentive audience. Photo by Melanie Robinson.

All smiles from an attentive audience. Photo by Melanie Robinson.

“The Botanical Gardens are such a beautiful setting,” said Joel Sanchez, a repeat attendee of the event. “It is great that they provide a venue for people of all ages and all walks of life to come together to enjoy theater. It helps to instill a sense of community.”

Sanchez also feels that SITP helps promote local performing arts and artists.

“I think that Shakespeare in the Park is a great way to make theater accessible to a wide range of the San Antonio community. The interpretations have enough visual appeal so that you don’t need to ‘know Shakespeare’ in order to ‘get’ it,” he said.

Having recently read a critical article about theatre in San Antonio that, interestingly enough did not mention The Magik Theatre, I asked Magik’s Director of Marketing, Aimee Stead about their role in the theatre community.

“We are family theatre that focuses on youth productions,” Stead said. “We are helping to create the next generation of audiences by teaching the youth of San Antonio to attend, participate and support the performing arts.”

Magik Theatre actor Rene Gonzalez (playing the character, "Lysander") jumps for joy during the first half of the Shakespeare play "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Photo by Melanie Robinson.

Magik Theatre actor Rene Gonzalez (playing the character, “Lysander”) jumps for joy during the first half of the Shakespeare play, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Photo by Melanie Robinson.

How can we improve what is seen as an insufficient theater scene? Encouraging current audience members is undoubtedly important, but teaching the next generation of audience members and supporting organizations such as The Magik Theatre is crucial as well.

The Magik Theatre also fits into the local theater community by hiring local talent and crews.

“It’s always been important for us to employ local actors and technicians,” Stead said. “San Antonio has a thriving arts and theater community and we want our SITP productions to reflect that every year … the talent is right here in our backyard.”

SITP is a free event but this year, Rosen noted, the organization has introduced an “encouraged” five dollar donation to attend.

“We have great support from larger foundations, but individual support isn’t where it needs to be,” she said. As a nonprofit organization with the largest offering of children’s theater programs in San Antonio, The Magik Theatre relies heavily on donations to function – but they won’t turn a child away from attending a production if they can’t pay the ticket price, Rosen said.

Erin Polewski refuses to break her fairy character as she runs through the garden collecting donations. Photo by Melanie Robinson.

Erin Polewski refuses to break her fairy character as she runs through the garden collecting donations. Photo by Melanie Robinson.

The Magik Theatre is a full-time repertory company theater whose shows feature actors that are part of their full-time acting staff. Actors for SITP are procured from an open call for auditions. Actors are asked to read a short selection from Shakespeare for the director(s) and callback auditions are held if necessary. This year, several members of the Midsummer cast have recently performed in New York City, including John Stillwagon and Kelly Petlin.

“We are incredibly fortunate to have some amazingly talented actors on our staff who, while they are fantastic in their roles often playing children on our main stage, enjoy sharpening their acting chops even more with Shakespeare’s works each year during SITP,” Stead said. “It gives our actors the opportunity to express themselves in a different way for a different audience.”

For example, Kacey Griffin who is the main character in the current main-stage musical “Freckleface Strawberry” has been rehearsing and performing as “Puck” in A Midsummer Night’s Dream – two drastically different roles but both very physically and vocally demanding.

Staff hinted that modern productions maybe in the works for the coming years, but for now Shakespeare In The Park is Magik’s main force to bring classic tales to a large audience at little-to-no cost to the patrons.

You have three more chances – this year – to bring a blanket, some chairs, a fiver and your two-hour attention span to the Botanical Garden for the show – and food? Worry not, concessions are sold on site.

 

Melanie Robinson graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English with a Concentration in Professional Writing and a minor in Anthropology from the University of Texas at San Antonio in December 2011. Her current Marketing position at the local nonprofit organization ARTS San Antonio has afforded her the opportunity to further explore her love of the arts. She now spends her nights among local musicians, artists and poets – finding beauty in self-expression. You can contact Melanie through her Facebook.

 

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