By Amelia Tarallo
Hometown Weekly Staff
Each summer, the Gazebo Players of Medfield draw in hundreds to watch their renditions of Shakespearean plays. They've been regular visitors to Walpole's Bird Park, where in recent years they've performed "Hamlet", "The Merchant of Venice" and "Othello", among others from the Bard.
Owing to COVID, though, this year’s production was a bit different. Rather than picking one play, the Gazebo Players produced six scenes from six different plays. This unique show, "Shakespeare in Shorts", came to Bird Park on Saturday, July 31 and Sunday, August 1.
The six vignettes altered the usual method of enjoying a Gazebo Players production. Attendees first made their way next to the music court, where they picked up a map and program of the respective scenes. They then make their way around Bird Park however they wished, picking scenes that they wanted to watch. Those unfamiliar with Shakespeare even had the option of picking between comedies, tragedies, or both, guided by mask icons on their maps.
“This was our COVID-friendly version of Shakespeare in the park. When we started planning it, we did not know which restrictions would be in place by performance time,” explained Juli Small, stage manager for the production.
“There was no way we were going to be able to rehearse for a normal production. Normally, we start rehearsals in May and typically we start indoors,” explained Amy Klesert, producer for the show. May’s wild-card weather made it impossible to rehearse outdoors, while COVID made it impossible to rehearse indoors. “We also just thought it was a good idea to come up with a performance where the scenes would be kind of self-contained. You have, at most, two to three actors in each scene and they can, for the most part, rehearse by themselves. Some people were rehearsing virtually until tech.”
At the music court, visitors could watch the explosive exchange between Hamlet and his mother. A quick walk brought visitors to the next scene where they saw a humorous moment from "Twelfth Night". A scene from "The Comedy of Errors" took visitors into the world of Antipholus and Dromio as they argued and then joked with one another. The scene picked from "The Tempest" was set against the picturesque pond as the actors portrayed drunken Caliban, Trinculo, and Stephano. Just across the pond, a few select scenes from "Macbeth" were performed. The planned scenes for "The Taming of the Shrew" were unfortunately canceled for Saturday's performance.
The spacing of the scenes not only made for a unique and no-pressure situation for audience members to enjoy the show, but also to keep them safe. “This was a way for us to keep the audience away from each other as much as we could, too. We didn’t want to pack them all into one space as well. We didn’t know if social distancing would still be in place, if the mask mandate would still be going on, any of that,” explained Small.
“Like, if all the scenes are performed simultaneously, the audience gets split up because not everyone will start with the same scene first,” Klesert added.
Typical Gazebo Player productions normally bring audiences to see a whole show while sitting in chairs for extended periods of time. This year’s production had people up and moving to enjoy the excerpted scenes. “It's something a little different. It slightly appeals to a different type of person, so we may have gotten people who don’t normally want to sit through a full Shakespearean production,” explained Klesert.
While the pandemic left them unable to produce a full-length Shakespearean play, the Gazebo Players nonetheless created a unique and fun way to enjoy the Bard's work this summer - and the same passion that they've always displayed in their productions was on full display.