Photo Gallery | The Tempest in the Pittsfield Common
PITTSFIELD — With plenty of wizardry, monsters and magic, William Shakespeare's last known play, "The Tempest," should delight the audiences of this year's Pittsfield Shakespeare in the Park production, especially children experiencing the bard for the first time.
Unlike last year's production, the star-crossed tragedy of "Romeo and Juliet," this summer's free outdoor show is a romance with a happy ending.
"The Tempest" opens July 21, coinciding with Pittsfield's Third Thursdays downtown celebration, and runs three consecutive Thursday through Sunday stretches, closing on Aug. 7. The curtain goes up for all 12 shows at 8 p.m. — with Mother Nature's cooperation for dry weather.
Admission to the shows is free, courtesy of several area businesses, philanthropic foundations, the city and an Indiegogo online crowdfunding campaign.
Being welcoming and family-friendly is what Pittsfield Shakespeare in the Park is all about, according to director and founder Enrico Spada, noting that whole families were among the other groups and individual patrons of last year's show.
After staging a comedy, "A Midsummer Night's Dream," for the first year of Shakespeare in the Park, followed by the tragedy of "Romeo and Juliet," Spada chose a romance for this third season's program.
Audiences will find Ferdinand, an Italian prince, shipwrecked on an island where a 15-year-old Miranda has been sheltered all her life. Tim Jones plays Ferdinand opposite Julie Castagna's shy and naive Miranda, seemingly brought together by fate, but a romance magically engineered by Miranda's father, Prospero.
A junior at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, Castagna is a veteran of Shakespearean plays enjoying a role of bringing a young girl out of her shell.
"It's so much fun playing a character intrigued by what's around her," she said during a recent rehearsal break. "The language of Shakespeare definitely guides you through."
Jones, an aerospace engineering student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, has to harness the emotional roller coaster of Ferdinand dealing with a deadly shipwreck then stumbling upon his dream girl.
"That flip is fun to play within this role; he watches his father die, then sees the girl and freezes," he said.
Cast as the wizard Prospero is Glenn Barrett, a veteran Stockbridge actor who has portrayed the sorcerer before, but never outdoors.
While the production has many magical elements via special effects, the human elements remain central to the play, something Barrett ensures the audience gets, if he's well prepared.
"Do your breathing exercises and make sure the audience hears you clearly — give the words with feeling," he said to fellow cast members.
Since its inception, Pittsfield Shakespeare in the Park has drawn some 5,000 people for 19 of 20 scheduled shows.
Last summer's featured production, "Romeo and Juliet," drew more than 3,500 people to 11 shows on The Common (one was rained out) compared with the 1,500 patrons who watched "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at Springside Park during the debut season of 2014, Spada said.
Once the renovation of The Common was completed, the nonprofit Shakespeare in the Park company, in coordination with the city's Office of Cultural Development, decided to relocate and expand its nightly schedule from eight to 12 shows over three, four-day weekend stretches, instead of the two-week gig at Springside Park.
Last year's decision to have opening night coincide with the July Third Thursday was intentionally made to take advantage of the large midsummer crowd that packs North Street for the three-hour block party, winding down at 8 p.m., near the start of the show.
Castagna will be performing in her third Shakespeare in the Park production, while Jones made his debut last year. Both of them say they are thrilled to be performing Shakespeare as his plays were intended — outdoors.
"I still get nerves, but the atmosphere is great," Castagna said. "It's cool to look out and see people both up close and spread out."
Jones added, "It's exhilarating. We get a lot of people walking by and as soon as they hear it's for free, they watch."
Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233