Meet the Neighbors: Chesapeake Shakespeare Company

A journal like the Little Patuxent Review requires a vibrant literary and artistic community to thrive–and even survive. In appreciation of the cultural organizations around us, we present “Meet the Neighbors,” where we provide you with some personal introductions.

Chesapeake Shakespeare Company's production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)

Chesapeake Shakespeare Company's production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)

Please meet the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, residing on High Ridge Road in Ellicott City, MD and frequently found staging productions at the Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park.

CSC came into being in 2002 when a handful of artists decided to produce some Shakespeare that wasn’t stuffy. It quickly grew into a regional voice for new approaches to classic theater and is now the largest non‐union professional Shakespeare company in America, reaching 8000 audience members and students each year.

In 2007, CSC represented Maryland in the Shakespeare in Washington festival. CSC staff have also held leadership positions in the international Shakespeare Theatre Association. Closer to home, Howard County, MD honored CSC’s Founding Artistic Director, Ian Gallanar, with a 2010 Howie Award.

Our editor, Laura Shovan, shares her most recent experience there:

My children and I are walking arm in arm down a steep hill. It’s a dark summer night, and we’ve got the giggles. A traffic cone appears out of nowhere, nearly tripping me and sending my 14- and 11-year-olds into hysterics. I apologize to the other people navigating this quarter-mile walk in the dark, but no one seems to mind. Everyone is in great spirits after seeing the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).

I wasn’t sure that I’d convince my teenager to attend the outdoor performance this summer. My husband and I have been taking both kids to CSC’s productions for several years. It’s become a family tradition. We pack a picnic, park our car at the Ellicott City courthouse and take a free shuttle up the hill to the ruins of the Patapsco Female Institute, where the Howard County based Shakespeare troupe presents its summer repertory.

Typically, I give the kids a little prep before we see a show. Once we’ve selected which of the two productions we’re going to see, we’ll read that chapter in Stories from Shakespeare by Nicola Baxter. Often, we’ll go to the library and borrow a volume of the Emmy-winning children’s series Shakespeare: The Animated Tales.

The bare bones of a plot are all the kids need to follow the action. We settle in for our picnic, enjoy the show before the show–especially if it’s stage fighting–and wait for the sun to set and the company to take the stage. The actors and production team make enough magic for all of us to become wrapped up in the play.

Attending theater outdoors, where there are no curtains and no true backstage, is a different experience than seeing Shakespeare produced in a formal theater. I’ll never forget a fall performance of Macbeth, where the audience followed the actors through the PFI and the surrounding grounds. During the banquet scene, we sat at cloth-covered picnic tables. When Lady Macbeth apologized to her guests for her husband’s erratic behavior, she was apologizing directly to us.

The community atmosphere is part of what draws us back to these productions, year after year. When we attended The Complete Works… two weekends ago, we bumped into neighbors and met their friends, who not only happen to be the CSC’s set and lighting designers but also had a son who played percussion with our son in middle school. Then, we helped wish a stranger a happy birthday. And after the play, there was that lovely, laugh-filled stroll down the hill with most of the audience, all of us headed back to our parked cars.

It’s because of this family tradition that my son had been looking forward to reading Romeo and Juliet in middle school this past year. He’d only seen Shakespeare performed, never studied it formally. He was less than impressed. Thus, the reluctance to come with us this summer.

I promised him that The Complete Works… would be funny, something like a Monty Python version of the Bard. The play is a send-up of Shakespeare’s 37 plays, with all of them performed in shortened form during the show by only three actors. Granted, the histories are condensed to a three-minute football game with the British crown as the football, but that’s part of the fun. This isn’t Shakespeare for insiders. Like all of CSC’s productions, it’s Shakespeare that invites everyone in.

Partway through The Complete Works…, I turned to look at my teen, who was laughing hysterically at Adam Long’s, Daniel Singer’s and Jess Winfield’s parody of Romeo and Juliet. No doubt about it, we will all be coming back next year.

In subsequent installments of “Meet the Neighbors,” we will introduce you to the Howard Country Poetry and Literature Society (HoCoPoLitSo) and–at bit further down the road–The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD.

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2 thoughts on “Meet the Neighbors: Chesapeake Shakespeare Company

  1. I met someone at the Columbia Arts Center who told me about this site and mentioned a poetry contest ending on October 31. I see no mention of it. Does it exist?

    Like

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